The gloomy weather outside the Capitol building seemed to mirror the
atmosphere inside the Senate chamber last Saturday night, as senators
contemplated a 3,000-page pile of unbound paper on their desks that
was the culmination of this year's budget cycle. With nine appropriations
bills yet unpassed, both the House and Senate essentially took the only
available option left to them, and passed this omnibus bill that few,
if any, Members had read.
Buried within these 3,000 pages were eight pages on the National Science
Foundation. This bill cuts NSF's budget by 1.9% for FY 2005. This $105.0
million reduction brings the foundation's new budget down to $5,472.8
million from its current level of $5,577.8 million. This action is contrary
to the position of the Bush Administration, which had requested a 3.0%
Under H.R. 4818, funding for RESEARCH AND RELATED ACTIVITIES remains
approximately level, declining by 0.7% or $30.8 million, from $4,251.4
million to $4,220.6 million. The conference report language gives the
NSF Director the power to allocate this money among the programs and
directorates, except in a few cases specified in this latest report.
The report language states, "the Foundation is urged to maintain
the proper balance between interdisciplinary research and single-issue
research in core disciplines." No funding levels were specified
for the MPS, GEO, or ENG programs. The Office of Polar Programs was
given a specific budget of $347.2 million, which was an increase of
1.5% or $5.1 million. The conferees did mention that up to $5.0 million
could be allocated for the "completion of a design and development
study for the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope if the Director of the
Foundation determines such funding is warranted based upon private sector
interest and commitment, other astronomical science needs, and subject
to approval by the National Science Board."
The MAJOR RESEARCH EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES CONSTRUCTION budget
receives a 12.1% or $18.7 million increase. Congress gave the Administration
essentially what it requested for ALMA and EarthScope. IceCube received
$47.6 million, considerably more than the $33.4 million that the Administration
requested. The Rare Symmetry Violating Processes did not do nearly as
well, with the bill providing $14.9 million of the $30.0 million that
NSF sought. The Scientific Ocean Drilling vessel also did not do well,
receiving $14.9 million of the $40.9 million that was requested.
EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES funding declines 10.4% or $97.6
million in this fiscal year. The conferees provided $79.4 million for
the Math and Science Partnerships program, retaining it in this directorate.
The Administration had requested $80.0 million for this program in the
Research and Related Activities Directorate, a proposed transfer that
was widely criticized on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) spoke about the NSF funding level in H.R. 4818,
"While I understand the need to make hard choices in the face
of fiscal constraint, I do not see the wisdom in putting science funding
far behind other priorities. We have cut NSF despite the fact that this
omnibus bill increases spending for the 2005 fiscal year, so clearly
we could find room to grow basic research while maintaining fiscal constraint.
But not only are we not keeping pace with inflationary growth, we are
actually cutting the portion basic research receives in the overall
budget." He continued, "This decision shows dangerous
disregard for our nation's future, and I am both concerned and astonished
that we would make this decision at a time when other nations continue
to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase
their funding of basic research. We cannot hope to fight jobs lost to
international competition without a well-trained and educated workforce.
If we want to remain competitive in the international marketplace, we
must provide funding that stimulates innovation and supports education.
Within our borders, NSF supports technological innovation that has been,
and remains, crucial to the sustained economic prosperity that America
has enjoyed for several decades. This innovation is made possible, in
large measure, by NSF support of basic scientific research, particularly
in the physical sciences. Research at NSF not only underpins physical
science research, but lays the foundation for work in the health sciences
and medicine as well. Reducing this funding is extremely short-sighted."