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NIST Document Describes Impact of FY 2008 Funding Shortfall

Richard M. Jones
Number 29 - February 26, 2008   |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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"This is a exciting opportunity for the Nation to take advantage of measurement- and standards-based innovation to advance U.S. economic growth, safety, and security. Unfortunately, Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations put NIST at risk of falling off of the [ten-year budget] doubling path."
- NIST Acting Director James Turner in a February 11 letter to House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is one of the three agencies that are part of the American Competitiveness Initiative for which the Bush Administration requested a significant budget increase in FY 2008. As was true for the National Science Foundation and the DOE Office of Science, the Consolidated Appropriations Act provided only a fraction of the NIST request. The Administration requested an increase of $66.1 million for NIST's Scientific and Technical Research and Services; the final bill provided an increase of $6.1 million (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/123.html.)

The impacts of the FY 2008 budget are outlined in a February 4 NIST document, "Three-Year Programmatic Plan for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce, Fiscal Years 2009-2011." This document may be accessed at www.nist.gov/director/reports/Final_NIST_3y.pdf

Excerpts from this document that describe the budget's impact on NIST's research programs, its staffing, and facilities, follow:

“The ACI [American Competitiveness Initiative] and the passage of the America COMPETES Act provide an unprecedented opportunity to further enhance NIST’s contributions to innovation and competitiveness. Unfortunately, Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations put NIST at risk of falling off of the doubling path. Those appropriations do not provide funding for NIST’s laboratory research and facilities efforts at the President’s request level for the ACI. NIST will make every effort to optimize the funds provided, but the lower funding provided compared to the President’s budget request will have negative impacts on NIST and its customers and partners in industry, academia, and other agencies. Those impacts include a real loss in timely research that yields positive benefits for the nation.

"The President’s FY 2009 request for NIST would get the Institute back on track to double NIST’s budget over 10 years, a key element of ACI that would enable NIST to continue to aggressively lay the science and technology foundation recommended by so many reports and proclamations on U.S. innovation and competitiveness.”

Later the report states that NIST will focus its programs to "address critical national needs and measurement barriers to innovation; improve the capacity and capability of the NIST laboratories; form new and strengthen existing partnerships with industry and academia; and develop novel mechanisms to stimulate the transfer of knowledge between NIST, industry, and academia." The report continues:

“Over the next three years, NIST will place a very heavy emphasis on each of these means to achieve our mission. Our ability to do so will be affected, of course, by the resources made available to NIST by the Administration and Congress.

"NIST received $439.6 million of its $500.5 million request for Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS), which primarily funds NIST labs. That is an increase of $5.3 million or 1.2 percent, over the FY 2007 enacted level compared with a requested increase of $66.1 million or 15.2 percent. (This does not include a congressionally directed award of $893,000).

"This means that research areas critical to U.S. innovation will not be advanced as aggressively as originally proposed. For example, the impacts include:

- Nanotechnology: Slows development of accurate detection and measurement methods and standards. In turn, this reduces industry's ability to exploit the economic potential of nanotech safely, limits the development of next-generation, nanotechnology based cancer therapies, and weakens consumer confidence in nanotech products. These will be a consequence of the lack of NIST measurement tools which are key to the determination of potential toxicity and environmental impacts of nanoparticles.

- Quantum computing: Postpones by at least a year progress in transformational research that can increase the nation's competitiveness. Delays development and implementation of absolutely secure solutions for financial and national security communications.

- Climate change: Inhibits improvement of the accuracy of climate change measurements, which could lead to savings in satellite programs and assist in evaluation of policy options. Specifically, calibrations of satellite sensors needed to quantify measures of solar irradiance and terrestrial temperatures will be delayed.

- Earthquake, flood, and wildfire-resistant structures: Opportunities to reduce $52 billion in annual natural disaster-related losses will be delayed. Progress will be slowed in developing model building codes, standards and tools for evaluating seismic strength as well as wind- and wildfire-resistance of new and existing buildings and communities.

"It also means that NIST falls $13.5 million short of the amount needed to cover salary increases and other anticipated costs, requiring several actions. Consequently, NIST will slow down new hires with specialized skills and will not be able to bring on board the estimated 300 additional staff and guest researchers anticipated with the budget initiatives requested by the President. NIST managers are reviewing laboratory and administrative activities to ensure that ongoing high priority projects receive the funding that they need and that all funds are used as efficiently as possible."

The report then describes the impact of the FY 2008 budget on NIST's "Construction of Research Facilities" account:

"As part of the ACI, NIST received $79.1 million of its requested $93.9 million for two new facilities initiatives and for operational maintenance, major repairs and safety of the NIST campuses. (This does not include congressionally directed awards of $51.3 million and a $30.1 million competitive construction grants program not requested by the President.) These two facilities initiatives are multi-year projects already under way: expansion of a neutron research center (NCNR) in Gaithersburg and laboratories in Boulder -- improvements that are critical in order for NIST to continue to conduct cutting-edge research for U.S. science and industry. The NCNR project is projected to provide world-class facilities to an additional 500 researchers each year.

"To compensate for the shortfall, NIST has adjusted its overall facilities plans in order to proceed with the two major projects. Consequently, NIST will slow down its program to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance projects on existing facilities. This increases the chances of unanticipated major equipment outages and temporary loss of facilities use, resulting in higher repair costs and loss of researchers' productivity.

"The President's FY 2009 request for NIST would get the Institute back on a doubling track -- enabling NIST to continue to aggressively lay the science and technology foundation recommended by so many reports and proclamations on U.S. innovation and competitiveness.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095