Final FY17 Appropriations: National Science Foundation

Publication date

The final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 provides flat funding for the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs. Unlike in previous fiscal years, the bill does not include constraints on how NSF is to distribute funds among its six research directorates. 

With passage in the Senate today, Congress finalized appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2017 that will increase the budget authority of the National Science Foundation by 0.1 percent over last year’s levels. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law tomorrow.

The Commerce-Justice-Science section of the explanatory statement accompanying the legislation provides policy direction and spending levels for NSF’s major accounts and facilities under construction. The statement also incorporates direction from last year’s House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports. While the statement and reports do not carry the authority of law, agencies typically abide by their language.

Details on proposed and final funding levels for NSF’s major budget accounts are included in the following table:

FY17 NSF Appropriations

Funding Line FY16
House Senate Final Change
NSF 7,464 7,564 7,406 7,510 7,472 0.1%
Research & Related Activities 6,034 6,079 6,079 6,034 6,034 0.0%
Biological Sciences 744 746 - - - -
Computer & Information Science & Engineering 936 938 - - - -
Engineering 916 946 - - - -
Geosciences 1,319 1,320 - - - -
Mathematical & Physical Sciences 1,349 1,355 - - - -
Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences 272 272 - - - -
Education & Human Resources 880 899 880 880 880 0.0%
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction 200 193 87 247 209 4.3%

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.

* Excludes $400 million in proposed mandatory spending, of which $346 million is for Research & Related Activities and $54 million is for Education & Human Resources.

In its fiscal year 2017 budget submission, the Obama administration requested a 1.3 percent discretionary funding increase for NSF and $400 million in additional mandatory spending. Congress ignored the mandatory funding request and instead opted to provide $6.034 billion overall for the agency’s six research directorates and $880 million for its education programs, the same as fiscal year 2016 levels.

Unlike in previous fiscal years, the bill does not include language that specifies how NSF should distribute funds among its research directorates. The House Appropriations Committee has included such language in the past, but the committee chair Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said last year that he no longer supports the idea.  

The bill provides $121.8 million toward the construction of three new Regional Class Research Vessels, one more than the administration requested. The Senate committee report argues that an additional vessel would permit NSF to more efficiently allocate resources between the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts.

Funding for other facilities construction will not be impacted by this increase, as they have been funded at their requested levels. The bill also provides continued funding for the relocation of NSF’s new headquarters, set to open this summer, to Alexandria, Virginia.

Further budget information, including detailed breakdowns of funding levels for specific NSF programs and facilities, is available in the Federal Science Budget Tracker on FYI’s website. Below are selected highlights from the bill and its accompanying reports.

Other highlights

Research and Related Activities

  • Peer review: Directs NSF to continue efforts to ensure that award abstracts articulate how the project “serves the national interest.”
  • Astronomy facilities: Directs NSF to continue working with the National Solar Observatory and the academic community to transition the management and operational responsibilities of solar telescopes to university consortia or other non-Federal entities.
  • High-performance computing: Directs NSF to update Congress on how it is acting upon recommendations from a National Academies report on maintaining and modernizing research supercomputing capabilities.
  • BRAIN Initiative: Includes the fiscal year 2016 level of $146.9 million for NSF’s contribution to the interagency Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, 3.6 percent over the requested amount.
  • EPSCoR: Maintains a funding level of at least $160 million for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, but negates House language to specifically provide for a $10.7 million increase.
  • Tornado research: Directs NSF to continue collaborative efforts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the Vortex-SE tornado field study in the southeastern U.S., and utilize collaborative opportunities of the Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events (PREEVENTS) program for co-funding grants that improve understanding of tornadoes in the southeast.
  • Women in STEM: Provides $18 million for the cross-foundation Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program, 17 percent above the requested amount.

Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction

  • LSST & DKIST: Provides the requested level of funding for construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.
  • New GAO review process: Directs the Government Accountability Office to review MREFC projects to “identify potential technical risks and cost overruns over the construction life of projects.”

Education & Human Resources

  • I-Corps: Maintains a funding level of $30 million for the I-Corps program, negating a House proposal to provide a $5 million increase.
  • New Hispanic Serving Institution Program: Directs NSF to establish a new Hispanic Serving Institution program at no less than $15 million to “build capacity at institutions of higher education that typically do not receive high levels of NSF grant funding.”
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