FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

FY 2013 Appropriations Committee Reports: National Science Foundation

Richard M. Jones
Number 63 - May 8, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their versions of the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill.  The full House is considering this bill today, the first of twelve appropriations measures to come to the floor.

Below are selections from the House and Senate appropriations reports pertaining to the National Science Foundation.  Language within each report stands, unless there is a conflict that will be resolved in the final conference report.  This final conference report will also resolve differences in recommended funding levels.

This FYI includes extensive report language and is 3,900 words in length.  Readers are urged to locate specific language through the following headings: National Science Foundation (general), Research and Related Activities, Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction, and Education and Human Resources.  Percentage changes are calculated compared to the current year. 

National Science Foundation:

FY 2012 appropriation is $7,033.1 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $7,373.1 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is 7,273.1 million, an increase of $240.0 million or 3.4 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $7,332.5 million, an increase of $299.4 million or 4.3 percent

Senate report language:

There are two pages describing the foundation’s mission, its management responses to reports from NSF’s Office of Inspector General, workforce management, and reprogramming that start on page 104.  In addition:

“The Committee appreciates the NSF’s commitment to terminating programs that are outdated, duplicative, or no longer achieving their goals. The Committee accepts NSF’s proposal for 11 cuts and consolidations totaling $67,000,000 in savings from the fiscal year 2012 level, including elimination of three Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research programs; termination of the Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation [CDI] program; elimination of four Mathematics and Physical Sciences Research programs; reduced funding for Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers [NSECs]; and elimination of two duplicative public outreach programs.”

There was no over-all House report language.

Research and Related Activities:

FY 2012 appropriation is $5,719.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $5,983.3 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $5,883.3 million, an increase of $164.3 million or 2.9 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $5,942.7 million, an increase of $223.7 million or 3.9 percent

Senate report language:

Following a description of the mission of Research and Related Activities, the report states:

“The Committee’s fiscal year 2013 recommendation renews its support for Federal long-term basic research that has the potential to be transformative to our economy and our way of life in the context of a Federal budget that is shrinking. However, the Foundation has chosen, in its budget request, to prioritize new initiatives while cutting support for core, merit-based science grants and for scientific infrastructure like ships and facilities. The seven ‘OneNSF’ framework priority activities have grown nearly fivefold from $166,750,000 in fiscal year 2011 to $807,100,000 in the fiscal year 2013 request. While the Committee supports these multi-disciplinary initiatives, it cannot do so by cutting NSF’s core programs.  The Committee directs that the $100,000,000 reduction below the fiscal year 2013 request level for R&RA be taken from the proposed $290,850,000 increases in OneNSF initiatives and not from core NSF program or infrastructure funding. The Committee urges NSF to reconsider cuts to key scientific infrastructure when delivering its spending plan by further reducing proposed increases for OneNSF initiatives.

Scientific Facilities and Instrumentation.  -- A critical component of the Nation’s scientific enterprise is the infrastructure that supports researchers in discovery science. Investments to advance the frontiers of research and education in science and engineering are critical to the Nation’s innovation enterprise. The Committee expects the NSF to fully fund world-class U.S. scientific research facilities and instruments to adequately support scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research to maximize sustained investments in research.

Astronomy. -- The Committee recommends the full budget request of $244,550,000 for astronomical sciences in fiscal year 2013, of which $161,890,000 shall be used for infrastructure. The additional funds should be applied within astronomical infrastructure so that all existing observatories receive not less than 98 percent of the higher of their fiscal year 2011 or fiscal year 2012 funding level as specified in the congressional justification for fiscal year 2013. The research resources line is funded at the budget request as is preconstruction planning. No funds should be applied to the Telescope System Instrumentation Program. Research investment in the EARS program from astronomy should be reduced on a dollar-for-dollar basis from the level proposed in the budget request. Funding for EARS will be considered from non-astronomical division sources if the Foundation seeks a reprogramming in the fiscal year 2013 spending plan.

“The Committee notes that the Foundation has proposed a wide ranging review of the portfolio for investments in astronomy including optical astronomy facilities, radio astronomy facilities, and individual investigator grants. Although the overall budget request level for fiscal year 2013 proposed an increase for NSF of 4.8 percent over fiscal year 2012, astronomy infrastructure was proposed to be held constant in the fiscal year 2013 request. The Committee intends to review any proposed restructuring of the portfolio for astronomy to ensure balance among the competing programs, and that core infrastructure capabilities needed to preserve U.S. leadership and broad access for the community are preserved.

“The Committee welcomes the line item identification of pre-construction funds for future major MREFC [Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction] projects, including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the astrophysics decadal survey’s top ranked ground-based priority in the coming decade. This joint NSF-Department of Energy project will provide unprecedented views of the changing sky and will drive key advances in cyber-infrastructure and large-volume data management. The Committee provides funding at the request level in order to make progress towards a potential new start in a subsequent year, subject to the project meeting the necessary conditions for such action.

Radio Astronomy. -- United States-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and conduct world-class scientific research. NSF should consider allocating adequate funding within the amounts provided to sustain operations at domestic radio astronomy facilities while transitioning to full operation of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.

Cybersecurity. -- The Committee’s recommendation includes the full request of $161,000,000 for cybersecurity research, including $57,000,000 for NSF’s contribution to the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. NSF provides 82 percent of the total Federal support for basic computer science research at academic institutions.  As government, business and society become more interconnected and dependent on computers, mobile devices and the Internet, it becomes more important that those systems be reliable, resilient and resistant to attacks. The discovery and innovation in cybersecurity supported by NSF will form the intellectual foundations for practical applications that make our information networks safer, more secure, and better able to protect our information.

Experimental Program To Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR].—Within the amount provided, the Committee provides $158,000,000 for EPSCoR, an amount that is $19,000 less than the fiscal year 2013 request.

Support for Academic Research Fleet. -- At a time of rising costs for fuel and material, the Committee is concerned about maintaining an adequate funding level for the Academic Research Fleet and related research to ensure vessels are properly maintained and effectively utilized. The Committee supports the full budget request level for Regional Class Research Vessels but is concerned this amount may not be adequate to support needed design work for planned acquisition of three regional class vessels.”

House report language:

Research priorities. -- The Committee appreciates the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) commitment to reviewing its portfolio of programs and proposing reductions or terminations where appropriate.  Such proposals provide a more fiscally sustainable way to support new or expanded programs. Accordingly, the recommendation adopts all of the reduction and termination proposals contained in the R&RA budget request except for the proposed termination of the Communicating Science Broadly (CSB) program. The Committee supports the continuation of CSB activities to ensure taxpayers have access to information about the impact and relevance of NSF’s scientific research.

“The funds made available through reductions and terminations, together with the increase provided by the Committee, will allow NSF to expand or enhance its activities across a range of research areas with significant potential impacts on national security and economic competitiveness. The Committee directs NSF to prioritize these new activities toward cybersecurity and cyber infrastructure improvements; advanced manufacturing (as further discussed below); materials research; and disciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the natural and physical sciences, math and engineering.  Not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act, NSF shall report to the Committees on Appropriations on the detailed distribution of funding by program within this account.

Advanced Manufacturing. -- The recommendation includes the proposed funding level of $148,900,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing initiative. Future economic prosperity in the United States will depend largely on our ability to develop and manufacture new products based on advanced technologies, both for the domestic market and for export. Basic research supported through NSF and other Federal science agencies is critical to this effort because it will help provide the foundation for the development of such new products and technologies by the private sector.

Commercialization of NSF-funded research. -- Many technical and scientific products, tools and processes in regular commercial use today can trace their origins back to basic research funded by NSF.  It is the Committee’s hope that such commercial applications of taxpayer-funded research would always benefit the domestic economy, but there are occasions where such applications are used instead for the production of goods and services (and, therefore, jobs) overseas. NSF lacks the means to predict how and where the technology produced from its basic research grants will eventually be utilized, but the connection between Federal funding and commercial utilization is much clearer for Innovation Corps (i-Corps) grants, where a potential path to commercialization has already been identified and recipients are actively working to transition into the marketplace. Therefore, in order to maximize return to the taxpayer on i-Corps investments, NSF is directed to require all recipients of i-Corps funding to commit to the domestic production of the goods or services being commercialized with NSF’s assistance.

Neuroscience. -- NSF is uniquely positioned to advance the nonmedical aspects of cognitive sciences and neurosciences, particularly through interdisciplinary research, computational models, visualization techniques, innovative technologies, and the underlying data and data infrastructure needed to transform our understanding of these areas. To help focus and coordinate future investments in this area, the Committee encourages NSF to establish a neuroscience crosscutting budget theme, in conjunction with the interagency Neuroscience Working Group that is being established by OSTP through the NSTC.

Management of scientific facilities. --It is the policy of the National Science Board (NSB) that all NSF awards should be made through peer-reviewed competition and recompetition in order to best serve the interests of science and education. The Committee understands, however, that the NSB has also endorsed a modified recompetition policy for major facilities awards that is intended to prevent the interruption of significant construction projects underway at the time that an award expires. While the Committee supports this policy, it must be carefully exercised in order to ensure that noncompetitive award extensions are not overused in the name of programmatic continuity. Consequently, NSF shall report to the Committees on Appropriations on plans for recompeting all major facilities awards set to expire within five years of the enactment of this Act. This report shall be provided no later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.

“The Committee notes that the utilization of interdisciplinary research facilities does not always align with the way these facilities are budgeted. For example, one research division may provide all of the operations and maintenance funding for a facility that supports scientific activity across several other divisions. The misalignment between a facility’s users and its funding source reduces transparency in NSF’s budget request and places a potentially unsustainable burden on the funding division. NSF shall report to the Committees on Appropriations with a listing of all active NSF funded interdisciplinary research facilities, a description of the source(s) of funding support for each facility and an analysis of the utilization of each facility by research division. The report should also include a description of options for addressing the issues presented by any misalignment of facilities utilization and funding and NSF’s assessment of those options. This report shall be provided no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act.”

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction:

FY 2012 appropriation is $167.1 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $196.2 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is $196.2 million, an increase of $29.1 million or 17.4 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $196.2 million, an increase of $29.1 million or 17.4 percent

Senate report language:

Following general descriptive language about this account, the report states:

“The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the requested level for the following ongoing projects: the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory [AdvLIGO]; the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope [ATST]; the Ocean Observatories Initiative [OOI]; and the National Ecological Observatory Network [NEON]. It represents the completion of funding for construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array [ALMA].”

House report language:

Funding profiles. -- Significant peaks and valleys in projected MREFC spending make it difficult for NSF and the Committee to anticipate and accommodate critical funding needs over time. The Committee encourages NSF to continue managing the transition of projects in and out of the MREFC account, as well as their phasing while under construction, to maintain a relatively steady overall account profile from year to year.

Project contingency funding. -- NSF has been engaged in a lengthy discussion process with the NSF OIG [Office of Inspector General] to resolve an ongoing dispute about project contingency budgets. Tens of millions of dollars of potentially unallowable contingency costs hinge on the resolution of this dispute, and the Committee believes that it is taking too long for a consensus resolution to be reached. NSF is directed to provide the Committees on Appropriations with an immediate update on the status of efforts to resolve these issues and to provide quarterly updates thereafter until such time that NSF and the OIG reach an agreement.”

Education and Human Resources:

FY 2012 appropriation is $829.0 million
FY 2013 Administration request is $875.6 million
FY 2013 Senate recommendation is 875.6 million, an increase of $46.6 million or 5.6 percent
FY 2013 House recommendation is $875.6 million, an increase of $46.6 million or 5.6 percent

Senate report language:

Following general descriptive language, the report states:

“The Committee strongly encourages NSF to continue support for undergraduate science and engineering education. At a time when enrollment in STEM fields of study continues to decline, it is important that NSF use its position to support students working towards degrees in these areas.

“Creating a strong science and engineering workforce for the future is vital to maintaining the Nation’s competitive edge. As the National Academies report ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm’ and, before that, the Hart-Rudman report on ‘Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change’ so illustratively point out, the future of U.S. competitiveness rests on our ability to train the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Advanced Technological Education. -- The Committee supports the full request level of $64,000,000 for Advanced Technological Education.

Robert Noyce Scholarship Program. -- The Committee has provided the fiscal year 2012 enacted level of $54,890,000 for the Robert Noyce Scholarship program. This program helps fill the critical need for STEM teachers in elementary and secondary schools by funding institutions of higher education to provide scholarships, stipends and programmatic support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K–12 teachers. Scholarship and stipend recipients are required to complete 2 years of teaching in a high-need school district for each year of support.

Federal Cyber Service: Scholarships for Service. -- At the same time that more Americans are relying on the Internet and networked systems for business and pleasure, threats to those systems are growing. The Federal Cyber Service: Scholarships for Service program helps the Federal Government respond to threats to our information technology infrastructure by providing scholarships to train cybersecurity professionals. In return, scholarship recipients agree to serve in a Federal Government agency position, building the Government’s capacity to understand, respond to, and prevent cyber threats. More than 900 students have completed the program, which was initiated in fiscal year 2001; 92.6 percent of students have placed with more than 120 Federal agencies. The Committee provides $45,000,000, which is $20,000,000 above the requested level, to expand the Federal Cyber Service: Scholarships for Service program.  Not less than $5,000,000 of the additional amount should be used to include community colleges that have been designated a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance 2-Year Education [CAE2Y] by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

Informal Science Education.”  -- The Committee maintains its strong support for NSF’s informal science education program and rejects the proposed cut to Advancing Informal STEM Learning [AISL], formerly known as Informal Science Education. A report from the National Academy of Sciences, ‘Learning Science in Informal Settings’, found evidence that nonschool science programs involving exhibitions, media projects, emerging learning technologies, and other informal education programs stimulate students and increase their interest in STEM education.

“The Committee encourages NSF to invest AISL funds in the design, development, and implementation of models, resources, and public engagement programs for STEM learning. Such proposals could use a broad range of communication formats and experiences, such as mobile and broadcast media, virtual learning environments, exhibitions, TV, radio, films, citizen science, science festivals, and out-of-school programs. Research funded by the AISL program should advance an informal learning infrastructure that deepens student, teacher, and public STEM expertise.

Graduate Research Fellowship Program Eligibility. -- The Graduate Research Fellowship Program [GRFP] provides 3 years of support for outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research based master’s and doctoral degrees in fields within NSF’s mission.  The Committee is concerned that meritorious applications from the field of psychology are being rejected without review based solely on the fact that the applicant is enrolled in a Clinical Psychology program, even when his or her application and academic work is focused on areas of basic research within the NSF mission. Therefore, the Committee urges NSF to ensure that the review of GRFP applications is based on the merits of the research proposed and that applicants are not rejected for reasons unrelated to the quality and merits of the proposed research.

Broadening Participation. --The Committee continues its longstanding support for existing initiatives to broaden participation in STEM fields and recognizes these programs have different purposes and engage students in a different manner. The Committee notes support for these programs has stagnated in spite of increases to the overall NSF budget. The Committee recommends $33,000,000 for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, $45,750,000 for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, $13,350,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, and $25,000,000 for Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology. In proposal selection, the Committee encourages NSF to give priority to grant proposals that have demonstrated maturity, including previous partnerships with other Federal agencies.

“The Committee is also committed to growing the STEM workforce by attracting broader participation from all underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The Committee directs NSF to maintain Research in Disabilities Education [RDE] and Research on Gender in Science and Engineering [GSE] as separate programs at the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.”

House report language:

Program changes. -- The recommendation incorporates NSF’s proposed program reductions in the EHR account. The reallocation of funds from these reduced programs, combined with additional new resources, will allow NSF to expand its efforts in strategic education research, workforce development and short-term, goal-oriented education partnerships, such as a new joint NSF-Department of Education initiative in K–16 math education.

Broadening participation programs. -- The Committee recognizes the importance of ensuring that there is a strong pipeline of students and workers preparing to pursue STEM-related careers. The current pipeline, however, fails to take full advantage of the potential of substantial portions of the population, including women and minorities. To broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education programs and, ultimately, the STEM workforce, the Committee has provided the requested level for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program.

“The Committee has previously asked NSF to consider the concept of creating a program within EHR to focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). NSF shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations a report outlining how the needs of HSIs will be addressed in fiscal year 2013 and any plans to establish an HSI-focused program in fiscal year 2014. This report shall be submitted no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act.

Advanced Technological Education (ATE). -- The Committee heard testimony this year from a number of manufacturing industry representatives as well as government witnesses about critical shortages in technical workers coming out of the American vocational education system. However, despite unanimity on this concern and a focus on manufacturing-related programs in the budget, the NSF request proposes no additional resources for ATE, the agency’s major technical education initiative. The Committee has addressed this oversight by providing ATE with $69,000,000, an increase of $5,000,000 above both the budget request and the fiscal year 2012 level. This increase is offset by a corresponding reduction of $5,000,000 from the requested amount for the Graduate Research Fellowship program, which has grown significantly over the past several fiscal years and is still projected to receive a total increase of $39,840,000 in the Committee recommendation.

Best practices in K–12 STEM education. -- NSF shall continue working to develop and carry out a tracking and evaluation methodology to assess the implementation of the recommendations contained in the NRC’s 2011 report entitled Successful K–12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This work should expand on efforts begun using funds provided in fiscal year 2012.

STEM-focused K–12 schools. -- The Committee notes that recent reports of the NRC and the NSB have encouraged education researchers and policymakers to give increased consideration to STEM-focused K–12 schools as an effective means of increasing STEM literacy. With those reports in mind, the Committee encourages NSF to work within its existing programs to promote opportunities for collaboration between universities or non-profit research institutions and STEM-focused schools serving K–12 students.

Informal STEM education. -- The Committee believes that exposure to STEM concepts outside of a traditional school setting plays a valuable role in promoting STEM literacy and engagement. NSF has proposed a number of changes to its Advancing Informal STEM Learning program that are intended to increase its focus on innovative learning and engagement strategies, especially as these strategies relate to underrepresented groups, and the Committee accepts these changes. The Committee encourages NSF to work with the informal STEM education stakeholder community as it transitions the program to ensure that sufficient opportunities exist for worthy proposals to compete for funding, including those that implement public engagement and non-school programs. Such proposals could use a broad range of communication formats and experiences, such as mobile and broadcast media, virtual learning environments, exhibitions, TV, radio, films, science festivals, and citizen science programs.”

Both committee reports also have language regarding Agency Operations and Award Management, Office of the National Science Board, and the Office of Inspector General.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics