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FYI Number 97: August 21, 2002

Senate Bill to Double NSF Budget

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 June 5.

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 bill.

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

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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