Senate appropriators are proposing to hold funding for NSF research steady in fiscal year 2017, while House appropriators would increase it by less than 1 percent. Appropriators from both chambers would leave decisions about how to divvy up the $6 billion research account to the foundation.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill that will fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) next year. While neither full chamber has yet considered the bill, both appropriations committees have approved committee reports that provide policy guidance and detailed spending proposals for the research grant-making agency.
The below table compares the House and Senate spending proposals for NSF, based on the figures in the committee reports. Additional details are available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
FY 2017 NSF Appropriations Summary Table
|Funding Line||FY16 Enacted||FY 17 Request*||Change 16-17||House||Change 16-17||Senate||Change 16-17|
|Research & Related Activities||6,034||6,079||0.8%||6,079||0.8%||6,034||0.0%|
|Education & Human Resources||880||899||2.1%||880||0.0%||880||0.0%|
|Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction||200||193||-3.6%||87||-56.5%||247||23.1%|
|Regional Class Research Vessels||-||106||-||0||-||160||-|
|Large Synoptic Survey Telescope||100||67||-32.7%||67||-32.7%||67||-32.7%|
|Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope||20||20||0.0%||-||-||20||0.0%|
* Excludes $400 million in proposed mandatory spending, of which $346 million is for Research & Related Activities and $54 million is for Education & Human Resources.
** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.
Proposals point to a second year of close to flat funding for NSF research, STEM education
The agreement between appropriators on flat or near flat funding for research reflects a stark reality for the state of federally-funded basic research. The proposals are not so much an expression of non-support, as appropriators have spoken highly of NSF and basic research this year as well as in the recent past. Rather, they are a product of the highly constrained budget environment in which Congress is operating.
The Senate would hold funding for NSF research steady at $6.034 billion in fiscal year 2017, while the House would increase it by less than 1 percent to $6.079 billion. This is in line with the president’s budget request, which also proposed $6.079 billion in spending for NSF research next year (after excluding the administration’s proposals for $400 million in mandatory spending which Congress quickly rejected). Both House and Senate committees would also keep Education and Human Resources, the office that houses most of the agency’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs, flat.
The scientific community will likely be disappointed with flat funding, or a small increase, for NSF research and STEM education, especially after NSF received essentially flat funding in fiscal year 2016. However, such an outcome would be in line with the overall non-defense discretionary spending cap for fiscal year 2017, which current budget law holds steady.
The House and Senate appropriators take different approach to the NSF facilities account, with the House eliminating the administration’s proposal for two Regional Class Research Vessels and the Senate boosting the total number of ships funded to three. There is agreement, however, one two key facilities of importance to the physical sciences: both House and Senate reports provide the full request for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.
Appropriators would let NSF decide how to spend $6 billion in research dollars
Neither the House nor Senate committee reports include language with major stipulations or constraints on how NSF is to divvy up funds between the six research directorates. While the longstanding precedent has been that the foundation determines how to divide research dollars between the directorates, in consultation in the scientific community, in recent years the House has begun to provide guidance on which directorates NSF should prioritize.
In fiscal years 2015 and 2016, Congress directed NSF to devote each years’ annual increase in research funding to four or five of the six research directorates, effectively holding budgets for the Geosciences and/or the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorates flat over the last two years. The lack of such language in either the House or Senate committee reports this year indicates that NSF may retain full flexibility in its allocation of research funds next year.
For the last few years, the scientific community has urged Congress to oppose language specifying directorate-level funding and to support giving the scientific community the latitude to spend research funds as the community sees fit. A Coalition for National Science Funding advocacy letter dated March 21, signed by several AIP member societies, reads:
We ask Congress to support NSF’s existing practice of setting priorities for research investments through engagement with the scientific community, The National Academies, National Science Board, and other advisory bodies.
Despite a victory for the scientific community on NSF autonomy in research prioritization, the House report does include some language that mirrors elements of Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Scientific Research in the National Interest Act,” which the House passed as part of America COMPETES legislation last year and again as a standalone bill earlier this year. The language, which is below, lists certain broader impacts criteria that the committee calls NSF grantees to use in writing research abstracts. The Senate report similarly calls on NSF to “include criteria that evaluates how a proposal will advance our Nation’s national security and economic interests, as well as promote the progress of science and innovation in the United States.”
Side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate committee reports
Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports that accompany the House and Senate bills.
Research & Related Activities
House: "The Committee has long been supportive of NSF’s peer review process to identify and recommend funding for scientifically meritorious research. NSF’s ability to fund cutting-edge research helps keep the United States at the forefront of research across all scientific disciplines, which in turn builds the technological capabilities that underpin economic growth and prosperity.
The Committee directs NSF to continue its efforts to ensure that award abstracts clearly explain in plain English the intent of the project and how the project meets both the intellectual merit and the broader impact review criterion. Improving the peer review process and project abstracts are critical to protecting NSF’s stellar scientific integrity. The abstracts serve as a public justification for NSF funding decisions by articulating how the project serves the national interest, consistent with the Foundation’s mission as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq). The Committee believes that abstracts should explain how a project increases economic competitiveness in the United States; advances the health and welfare of the American public; develops an American STEM workforce, including computer science and information technology sectors, that are globally competitive; increases public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology in the United States; increases partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; supports the national defense of the United States; or promotes the progress of science for the United States."
Senate: "The Committee has long been supportive of NSF’s peer review process to identify and recommend funding for scientifically meritorious research. NSF’s ability to fund cutting-edge research helps keep the country at the forefront of research across all scientific disciplines, which in turn builds the technological capabilities that underpin economic growth and prosperity. As part of the peer review process, NSF should include criteria that evaluates how a proposal will advance our Nation’s national security and economic interests, as well as promote the of progress of science and innovation in the United States."
House: "The Committee recognizes that the continued operation of the NSF network of astronomical observatories is a strategic asset to the nation, and that each observatory serves a specific need in Astronomical Sciences. These observatories were created with strong Federal investments and the observatories shall remain under NSF operation where possible. NSF shall not implement any final divestment of infrastructure tied to the findings of its 2012 Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review without first reporting such actions to the Committee. Further, any such actions shall be carried out in accordance with relevant reprogramming requirements. The Committee is aware that NSF is working cooperatively with academic and private sector partners to develop plans to share future operations and maintenance costs of some aging but still scientifically productive facilities. NSF shall keep the committee informed of these activities."
Senate: "U.S.-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and maintain excellent world-class scientific research even as operating budgets have been continually constrained. This area of research is particularly important because NSF’s network of observatories and its individual investigators are significant resources to all astronomers, including those from U.S. colleges and universities that do not have dedicated observatories. The Committee encourages NSF to sustain support for the programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences division, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The Committee believes that a robust U.S. solar research community is an important asset to the country’s competitive scientific edge. As NSF begins its long-planned transition to full-scale operations of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the Committee directs NSF to continue working with the National Solar Observatory and the academic community to transition the management and operational responsibilities of other solar telescopes to university consortia or other non-Federal entities."
House: "The Committee urges NSF to continue its commitment to modernizing its world-class big data and high-performance computing resources, which support all areas of scientific research and education, including the most demanding scientific challenges. NSF shall brief the Committee periodically on its efforts to incorporate the recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences report, Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017–2020."
Senate: "The Committee commends NSF on its continuing commitment to its high-performance computing and data analysis capabilities and urges NSF to make timely and significant investments in high-performance computing. NSF should remain committed to enabling tremendous leaps in computational simulation and data analyses for the broad range of research the Nation requires. The Committee understands that the National Research Council [NRC] is in the process of finalizing its report on advanced computing infrastructure. This report should be instructive in identifying priorities and approaches that NSF can take to modernize its high performance computing infrastructure and associated software and applications in order to support scientific research and education. Within 180 days of receipt of the finalized report, NSF shall provide the Committee with a response to the report and its plans to incorporate, to the extent practicable, the NRC’s recommendations into the Foundation’s approach for maintaining and modernizing its supercomputing capabilities at existing or future facilities."
Mathematical Sciences Institutes
Senate: "The Committee recognizes the importance of the NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes across the country, which provide important basic research in multiple fields."
Senate: "The southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the Midwest, where tornado research has historically been focused. NSF has been working in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] to build up to a full research campaign to study the unique characteristics of tornadoes in the southeast. The Committee understands that NSF and NOAA are conducting an initial field operation associated with the Vortex-SE effort in the spring of 2016 and fully supports the planned workshop in the fall of 2016 that will help inform the larger scale research effort planned for fiscal year 2017. These activities will allow for researchers to build a framework for a focused experimental design and science campaign centered on tornadoes in the southeast. NSF shall continue its coordinated efforts with NOAA to ensure that NSF-funded research complements work funded through NOAA. The committee expects that future budget requests for Vortex-SE will include adequate resources for the anticipated research campaign and directs NSF to include a coordinated funding plan and timeline for conducting Vortex-SE as part of future budget requests. As part of Vortex-SE, the Committee directs NSF to look beyond the traditional research disciplines and programs utilized in previous Vortex programs and to include and utilize the collaborative opportunities of the Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events [PREEVENTS] program for co-funding grants that enhance understanding of the fundamental natural processes and hazards of tornadoes in the southeast and to improve models of these seasonal extreme events."
House: "Within amounts provided, $146,930,000 is for NSF’s contributions to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative."
House: "The recommendation includes $35,000,000 for the NSF Innovation Corps program. The $5,000,000 increase above the request will allow the NSF to provide additional funding for new and existing I-Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes to enable greater participation nationally."
Senate: "The Committee supports the NSF’s request for the Innovation Corps [I–Corps] program to build on the successes of its innovative public-private partnership model. Technology transfer is the backbone of American innovation, and NSF plays a critical role in enabling our Nation’s brightest academic minds to bring their ideas and ingenuity to the marketplace. Scientists are trained in discovery but need help turning their research into real-world products and profits. Programs like I–Corps create jobs in our laboratories today and jobs in American industries tomorrow. NSF is encouraged to collaborate with the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s Lab-to-Market program and with other science mission agencies’ technology transfer programs to leverage Federal expertise in maximizing the success of I–Corps projects and participants."
HBCUs Excellence in Research
Senate: "The Committee continues to believe in the importance of additional Federal research opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs]. Because NSF’s primary research directorates continue to have a troubling track record of funding HBCUs, the Committee provides $10,000,000 for the HBCUs Excellence in Research program with the goal of providing strategic programs and opportunities for HBCUs that stimulate sustainable improvement in their research and development capacity and competitiveness. NSF is also encouraged to use research infrastructure improvement grants, co-funding programs, and other innovative mechanisms to achieve these goals. NSF shall provide a detailed outline of the proposed execution for the HBCUs Excellence in Research program in its fiscal year 2017 spending plan."
Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials
Senate: "The Committee recognizes that the Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials [SusChEM] program is scheduled to sunset in fiscal year 2017, but encourages NSF to continue research in these fields within existing program areas. The Committee encourages NSF to pursue a long-term vision for sustainable chemistry, including support for sustainable chemistry research and development, education and training, commercialization, and public-private partnerships."
Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers [ADVANCE]
Senate: "The Committee is supportive of the ADVANCE program, which funds efforts to address the systemic barriers to women’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] careers. To further these efforts, the Committee provides $18,000,000, an increase of $3,100,000 above the fiscal year 2016 funding level, with the additional funds being provided to broaden the reach of the proven strategies developed through ADVANCE to increase the representation and advancement of women and minorities in STEM fields."
Experimental Program To Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR]
House: "Within amounts provided, $170,690,000 is for EPSCoR."
Senate: "Within funds provided, the Committee provides not less than the fiscal year 2016 enacted level for EPSCoR."
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory / Large-scale Research Facilities
House: "The Committee commends NSF and its academic partners for the September 2015 detection of gravitational waves using the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. The Committee believes that infrastructure investments such as these result in expanding our understanding of the universe and inspiring students to pursue careers in the sciences. The Committee is mindful of the need to balance these investments with the need to ensure that research funds are available and ample so that scientists can study and exploit data derived from such large infrastructure projects. The Committee recognizes that current and future large scientific facilities represent an enormous investment of Federal resources that must be administered wisely. Toward that end, NSF shall provide periodic updates to the Committee with respect to its implementation of recommendations from the NAPA report, National Science Foundation: Use of Cooperative Agreements to Support Large Scale Investment in Research which included a review NSF’s use of cooperative agreements to support the development, construction, commissioning, and future operations of state-of-the-art, large-scale research facilities."
GAO Independent Review of Facilities
House: "GAO shall review programs funded within the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account and provide analysis to the Committee similar to that which the Committee receives from GAO on NASA’s large-scale acquisition and construction projects. The Committee believes that this additional independent analysis will help identify potential technical risks and cost overruns over the construction life of projects so that these important scientific missions remain on schedule and on budget. NSF is directed to cooperate fully and to provide timely program analysis, evaluation data, and other relevant information to GAO so that it may report to Congress shortly after the annual budget submission of the President and semiannually thereafter on the status of large-scale NSF programs, projects, and activities based on its review of this information. The Committee notes that NSF has a no-cost overrun policy and expects GAO’s analysis to explain how NSF intends to implement this policy should it be triggered."
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope / Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
House: "The recommendation includes $67,120,000, the requested amount, for the LSST. The LSST, which was ranked as the top large ground-based astronomy project by the National Research Council 2010 Decadal Survey, will produce the deepest, widest-field sky image ever, and issue alerts for moving and transient objects within 60 seconds of discovery. NSF shall provide quarterly briefings to the Committee on the status of this project, to include updates on addressing the issues identified by the NSF IG. NSF shall provide quarterly briefings to the Committee on the status of DKIST, to include updates on addressing the issues identified by the NSF IG."
Senate: "The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the requested level for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope."
Regional Class Research Vessels
Senate: "The Committee notes that the fiscal year 2017 request includes a new start for two regional class research vessels [RCRV]. In a 2012 report to the Committee on the status of the planned acquisition of the RCRV, NSF indicated that the agency was coordinating with the Interagency Working Group on Facilities and Infrastructure to design and potentially construct three RCRVs in order to right size the fleet. The timeline included milestones, pending funding approval, for three RCRVs beginning in 2017, 2019, and 2020. In March of 2014, NSF reiterated its recommendation for three vessels, after analyzing multiple scenarios through its division of Ocean Sciences. The analysis showed RCRVs are needed to meet regional coastal requirements and could be supported within projected budgets.
The Committee supports NSF’s plan for acquiring three RCRVs and appreciates the benefits of having dedicated regional vessels for the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts rather than inefficiently forcing two ships to allocate time among the three regions. Therefore, the Committee recommendation provides $159,453,000 to facilitate planning and construction of three RCRVs. Independent Review.—The Committee requests the Government Accountability Office [GAO] to review programs funded within MREFC in a timescale and quality that is similar to the analysis GAO already provides the Committee regarding NASA’s large-scale acquisition and construction projects. The Committee believes that the additional independent perspective will help to identify potential technical risks and cost overruns over the construction life of projects so that these important scientific missions keep on schedule and on budget. NSF is directed to cooperate fully and to provide timely program analysis, evaluation data, and other relevant information to GAO so that GAO can report to Congress shortly after the annual budget submission of the President and semiannually thereafter on the status of large-scale NSF programs, projects, and activities based on its review of this information. The Committee notes that NSF MREFC has a no cost overrun policy and expects GAO’s analysis to explain any trade offs NSF intends to execute to meet its policy."
House: "The recommendation fully funds the requested amounts for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science program which builds on recommendations for increased efficiencies included in the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel report, More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness."
Education & Human Resources
Robert Noyce Scholarship Program
Senate: "The Committee provides the budget request level of $60,890,000 for the Robert Noyce Scholarship program to help fill the critical need for STEM teachers in elementary and secondary schools."
Informal Science Education
Senate: "The Committee maintains its strong support for NSF’s informal science education program and supports the requested levels of $62,500,000 for Advancing Informal STEM Learning and $51,880,000 for STEM-C Partnerships. The Committee encourages the NSF to coordinate and provide necessary support for investments in both in- and out-of-school time STEM education programs across Federal agencies, including support for extracurricular STEM programs."
Division of Research on Learning [DRL] in Formal and Informal Settings
Senate: "As part of the research funded through the DRL, the Committee recognizes the importance of out-of-school time STEM mentor-led engagement programs, including STEM networks, festivals, and competitions. Such programs are highly effective in filling the higher education STEM pipeline. The Committee urges NSF to focus on populations underrepresented in the STEM fields and encourages NSF to fund out-of-school time STEM engagement program activities."
Broadening Participation Programs
House: "To broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education programs and, ultimately, the STEM workforce, the recommendation provides no less than $35,000,000 for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program; $46,000,000 for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; and $14,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. In addition, over the past several years, this Committee has asked NSF to consider creating a program within EHR to focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Such a program was authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2010. The Committee directs NSF to establish an HSI-specific program no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act and demonstrate a $30,000,000 investment no later than September 30, 2017."
Senate: "The Committee continues its longstanding support for existing initiatives to broaden participation in STEM fields and recognizes these programs have various purposes and engage students in a different manner. The Committee notes that support for these programs has stagnated within NSF in spite of increases to the overall NSF budget. The Committee recommends $35,000,000 for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] Undergraduate Program, $8,000,000 for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, $46,000,000 for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, $14,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, and $24,000,000 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."
Hispanic-Serving Institutions [HSI] Program
Senate: "Investment in STEM education is vital for American economic competitiveness, and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented in science and engineering disciplines. The Committee provides $5,000,000 as authorized under 42 U.S.C. 1862o–12 for NSF to implement an HSI Program that is designed to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of Hispanic students pursuing associate or baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields."