Shortly before Congress departed for August recess, Senator Ted
Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a bill on July 29 to more than double
the National Science Foundation budget over five years. This
bill, S. 2817, is the Senate's answer to H.R. 4664, an NSF
reauthorization bill that passed the House by a wide margin on
The House bill (see FYI
#66) would reauthorize NSF for fiscal years 2003 to 2005, putting
the foundation's budget on track to double in five years by calling
for 15 percent increases in each of the years authorized. The Senate
bill, known as the "National Science Foundation Doubling Act,"
is cosponsored by Senators Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Barbara Mikulski
(D-MD), and Christopher Bond (R-MO). The Senate bill would reauthorize
NSF through FY 2007 and recommends annual increases of approximately
15.5 percent in each of the years authorized, more than doubling the
foundation's budget by FY 2007.
NSF's current budget is $4,789.2 million, with $3,598.6 million
for Research and Related Activities (R&RA), and the
Administration is seeking $5,036.0 million for FY 2003. The
Senate bill would authorize $5,536.4 million for the foundation
in FY 2003. By comparison, the House bill would authorize
$5,515.3 million for FY 2003.
By FY 2007, the authorization level in the Senate bill would
increase to $9,839.3 million (with $7,559.1 million for R&RA),
which would represent a 105.5 percent increase over current
funding, not considering inflation.
It is important to keep in mind that, as authorizing legislation, these
bills approve programs and provide guidance to appropriators, but do
not appropriate any funds themselves. In fact, two cosponsors of S.
2817, Mikulski and Bond, are also Chair and Ranking Minority Member,
respectively, of the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible
for NSF. As appropriators, they have to work within the allocations
given them, and must balance funding among all the programs under their
jurisdiction. As an example of this fiscal reality, their FY 2003 appropriations
bill (see FYI #89)
would provide $5,353.4 million for NSF for the approaching fiscal year,
slightly less than the amount they recommend in the reauthorization
In addition to authorizing future funding levels for NSF, the
Senate and House reauthorization bills include several other
provisions. The Senate bill differs from its House counterpart
by specifying that the NSF Director continue the following
initiatives: Information Technology; Nanoscale Science and
Engineering; Plant Genome Research; Innovation Partnerships;
Mathematics and Science Partnerships; Robert C. Noyce
Scholarships; the Science, Mathematics, Engineering and
Technology Talent Expansion Program; the Secondary School
Systemic Initiative; the Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Research (EPSCoR); and the Science and Engineering
Equal Opportunities Act.
The Senate and House bills also contain nearly identical provisions
addressing NSF's prioritization of proposed major research equipment
and facilities construction. How prospective projects under this
account are evaluated and prioritized for funding has been the
subject of congressional concern and several hearings. In general,
the National Science Board approves a list of projects for inclusion
in future NSF budget requests, but those projects are not ranked in
any priority order. However, both reauthorization bills would
require the NSF Director to develop, for the Board's approval, "a
list indicating by number the relative priority for funding under
the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account
that the Director assigns to each project the Board has approved
for inclusion in a future budget request." The Director would be
required to report annually to Congress on the latest Board-
approved priority list, the criteria used to develop the list,
and "a description of the major factors" that determined each
project's ranking on the list. Both House and Senate bills cite
the following as necessary criteria for a project to be on the
list: scientific merit; broad societal need and probable impact;
consideration of the results of formal prioritization efforts by
the scientific community; readiness of plans for construction and
operation; international and interagency commitments; and the
order in which the Board approved projects. The Senate bill
mentions "the applicant's management and administrative capacity
of large research facilities" as an additional criteria.
Among other provisions, the Senate bill would require the Board
to "explicitly approve any project to be funded out of the major
research equipment and facilities construction account before any
funds may be obligated from such account for such project." It
also calls for the Director to conduct an assessment of the needs
for major research instrumentation by field of science and
engineering and by type of institution.
The House bill calls for NSF and NASA to jointly establish an
Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee to help in
coordination of these fields across agencies.
There are some indications that the relevant Senate committees
might take up this bill in September, but that is not certain.
When Members come back into town after Labor Day, they will be
facing an October 1 deadline to complete the appropriations bills
before the start of the new fiscal year. When they turn their
attention to the NSF reauthorization, in addition to differences
in funding levels and other provisions, House-Senate conferees
will need to reconcile the fact that one bill only runs through
FY 2005 and the other through FY 2007.
The full text of both bills (S. 2817 and H.R. 4664) can be found on
the Library of Congress web site at http://thomas.loc.gov.