In their fiscal year 2019 proposals, House and Senate appropriators reject the Trump administration’s proposed 4 percent cut to the National Science Foundation and instead plan to boost it by between 4 and 5 percent.
In their fiscal year 2019 spending legislation that funds the National Science Foundation, House and Senate appropriators propose to at least match the 4 percent funding boost Congress provided the research agency in fiscal year 2018. The House proposal would provide 5 percent increases to both NSF and its primary research account that supports research grants and facilities, while the Senate proposal would provide 4 percent increases.
More details by account are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker. Additional funding and policy guidance can be found in the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports on the bills, and a side-by-side comparison of report language is provided at the end of this bulletin.
The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that funds NSF on May 17, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version on June 14. Neither the House nor Senate have yet scheduled full chamber votes on their respective bills.
Appropriators say no spending cuts to facilities or core research
As in past years, House and Senate appropriators do not specify how NSF should divvy up a proposed $6.6 billion for Research and Related Activities between its six research directorates and a handful of other research offices, but they do propose some general guidance.
Core research. Throughout their reports, both House and Senate appropriators express support for NSF’s 10 Big Ideas at the frontiers of science. The House appropriators even weigh in with their own ideas, recommending that in pursuit of the Big Ideas NSF should “support experimental research capabilities in the mid-scale range for potential experiments and facilities that fill current research gaps, including research to support high energy laser technologies.”
However, at the same time, the Senate calls on NSF to maintain its “core research” at levels “not less than those provided in fiscal year 2017,” and says it “expects … funding for the fundamental scientific disciplines will be maintained.” The report goes on to insist funding increases are enough for the agency to invest in its Big Ideas while fully supporting research disciplines.
Research centers and facilities. House appropriators also direct NSF to provide “no less than fiscal year 2018 levels” to all research labs, centers, and facilities it currently supports, as well as other research infrastructure assets including “the national high performance computing centers.”
Science in the “national interest.” As in last year’s bill, House appropriators once again reiterate merit review requirements codified in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), including an increased focus on ensuring NSF research adheres to the agency’s statutory mission and broader impacts criterion. The Senate report does not reference AICA, but says the committee “continues to believe that NSF should include criteria that evaluate 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.”
Physical sciences. While the bills do not mandate any particular distribution of research funding between directorates or disciplines, House appropriators underscore “strategic investments in the physical sciences are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.”
Astronomy and astrophysics. Within the physical sciences, House appropriators call out astronomy and astrophysics as scientific fields worthy of increased support, noting that “U.S.-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and maintain excellent world-class scientific research.” They further direct NSF to fund programs and scientific facilities in the Astronomical Sciences Division at “no less than the fiscal year 2018 levels to maintain full scientific and educational operations.”
The Senate report stipulates that NSF include any facility divestment plans as part of future NSF budget requests. At a June 12 subcommittee meeting on the bill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) defended Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, one of the facilities from which NSF is considering divesting. Emphasizing that the bill “ensures full funding and…support for operations” at Green Bank, he credited the telescope with “making groundbreaking discoveries today.”
High-performance computing. Appropriators also highlight high-performance computing, with the House report calling for “timely and significant investments in high-performance computing” that will enable “leaps in computational simulation and data analyses for the broad range of research the Nation requires.” The Senate report recommends NSF establish “a timely, well-funded budget line” in future budget requests to support “world-class leadership computing for the national open science community.”
Major Research Instrumentation. The House report also directs NSF to provide “not less than the budget request” of $75 million for the mid-scale Major Research Instrumentation account, which supports up to $4 million for either acquisition or development of a research instrument. This would keep the program funded at close to its fiscal year 2017 funding level.
Committees support Antarctic infrastructure modernization, telescope construction
Both House and Senate appropriators reject the administration's proposed cuts to NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account. Instead, they propose a sizable funding increase, from $183 million in fiscal year 2018 to around $250 million in fiscal year 2019, but do so for different purposes.
Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science. The Senate report provides $95 million in MREFC funds for the new Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) program, which will replace outdated facilities at McMurdo Station to meet anticipated science support needs for the next 30 to 50 years. While both House and Senate appropriators are backing AIMS, the House report would fund it through the Office of Polar Programs in the Research and Related Activities account, as NSF requested; the Senate report transfers the program to the MREFC account. AIMS will be a major, multi-year construction project expected to exceed a total cost of $350 million.
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. House appropriators would more than double the budget for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) under construction in Chile, from $58 million this year to $124 million in fiscal year 2019. By contrast, the Senate is planning to fund LSST at the requested $49 million, a $9 million decrease from the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. When asked by ScienceInsider why he boosted the allocation for LSST far beyond the level NSF requested, House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) explained he hopes to accelerate the facility’s construction and save the government money.
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Both House and Senate reports propose funding the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, currently under construction in Hawaii, at the requested $16 million level, a slight decrease from the $20 million provided in fiscal year 2018. The House report says its construction is set to finish by June 2020, and when completed it will be “the most powerful solar observatory on Earth.”
Regional Class Research Vessels. The House and Senate committees both support continued construction for three new Regional Class Research Vessels, with the House proposing a $22 million increase and the Senate proposing a $16 million decrease below the $105 million that Congress provided for the vessels in fiscal year 2018.
Senate appropriators reject fellowship and scholarship cuts
The Education and Human Resources Directorate, which houses most of NSF’s STEM education programs, would see essentially level funding in both the House and Senate proposals, maintaining the size of the directorate at just over $900 million. Where the Trump administration proposed to significantly cut funding for the Graduate Research Fellowship and Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship programs, the Senate report pushes back, saying it “does not adopt” the cuts. The House report does not weigh in on these programs.
FYI will report on the House and Senate proposals for federal STEM education programs including NSF’s in a later bulletin.
The following expandable tabs offer side-by-side comparisons of language from the House and Senate appropriators' reports on their respective bills. This language details funding proposals, policy guidance, and the appropriators' views on different research programs.
Research centers and facilities
House: Within amounts provided, NSF shall allocate no less than fiscal year 2018 levels to support its existing research laboratories, observational networks, and other research infrastructure assets, including the astronomy assets, the current academic research fleet, Federally funded research and development centers, and the national high performance computing centers, so they may provide the support needed for cutting edge research.
Senate: The Committee encourages the NSF to fully fund its U.S. scientific research facilities and instruments to adequately support scientists and students engaged in sustained, cutting-edge research.
Science in the national interest
House: The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114-329)] directs that each public notice of a Foundation-funded research project justify the expenditure of Federal funds by describing how the project reflects the statutory mission of the Foundation, as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.); addresses the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria; and clearly identifies the research goals of the project in a manner that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical audiences. Further, this legislation directs NSF to apply a broader impacts review criterion to identify and demonstrate project support of the following goals: increasing the economic competitiveness of the United States; advancing of the health and welfare of the American public; supporting the national defense of the United States; enhancing partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; developing an American STEM workforce that is globally competitive through improved pre-kindergarten through grade 12 STEM education and teacher development, and improved undergraduate STEM education and instruction; improving public scientific literacy and engagement with science and technology in the United States; or expanding participation of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM.
Senate: The Committee continues to believe that NSF should include criteria that evaluate 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.
Data security / Intellectual property protection
House: The Committee directs the National Science Foundation, in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other agencies as needed, to work with the academic community, through workshops or other mechanisms as appropriate, to identify best practices for universities and institutions of higher education so that they may be aware of and can address data security concerns, including intellectual property protection in NSF-funded research projects or at NSF-funded facilities. NSF shall report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act regarding how it plans to implement this direction.
Research and Related Activities
House: The Committee commends NSF’s Big Ideas initiative to identify long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering.
Senate: NSF has embarked on a long-term plan to use 10 Big Ideas, along with two convergence accelerators, to guide funding for areas that will drive NSF’s long-term research agenda and investments in fundamental research. These ideas are meant to define the focus of cutting-edge research uniquely suited for NSF’s broad portfolio. The Committee is supportive of NSF using its position as the lead Federal agency in supporting basic research in all fundamental science areas and expects that as NSF uses the 10 Big Ideas as a focusing tool, the funding for the fundamental scientific disciplines will be maintained. The Committee has provided significant funding above the amount provided in fiscal year 2018 and also above the amount requested in fiscal year 2019. Therefore, NSF shall maintain its core research at levels not less than those provided in fiscal year 2017. The Committee believes that the additional funds provided for fiscal year 2019 are more than adequate to continue basic research and allow NSF to position the United States to continue as a global science and engineering leader using the 10 Big Ideas framework.
House: The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical sciences are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.
Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research
House: Within amounts provided, $170,690,000 is for EPSCoR.
Senate: The Committee underscores the importance of the EPSCoR program in spurring innovation and strengthening the research capabilities of institutions that are historically underserved by Federal research and development funding. The EPSCoR program is funded at no less than $176,650,000. NSF shall make every effort to achieve efficiencies to ensure that no more than 5 percent of the amounts provided for the program are used for administration and other overhead costs.
Astronomy and astrophysics
House: The Committee underscores that a critical component of the nation’s scientific enterprise is the infrastructure that supports researchers in discovery science, including planetary protection. Investments to advance the frontiers of research and education in science and engineering are critical to the nation’s innovation enterprise. U.S.-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and maintain excellent world-class scientific research. The Committee expects NSF to sustain support for the programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences Division at no less than the fiscal year 2018 levels to maintain full scientific and educational operations. The Committee is aware that NSF is working with Federal, academic and private sector partners to develop plans to share future operations and maintenance costs of NSF astronomical infrastructure. NSF shall keep the Committee informed of these activities. Further, any proposal by NSF to divest the Foundation of these facilities shall be proposed as part of any future NSF budget request and is subject to NSF administrative provisions included in the accompanying bill.
With the recent discoveries enabled by NSF facilities, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detection of gravitational waves, a new opportunity for astronomy has been created. Multi-messenger astrophysics will depend upon both existing and newly developed ground and space-based facilities. In order to pursue NSF’s new Big Idea, Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-Messenger Astrophysics, NSF is encouraged to support the recommendations of recent decadal surveys from the community. It is important that NSF continues to robustly support both ongoing operations of existing astronomy and physics facilities and articulate a plan to ensure public access in future large optical observatories.
Senate: As NSF determines the appropriate levels of support for astronomy research grants by scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research and investments, the Committee expects NSF to continue its support of world-class scientific research facilities and instrumentation to maximize its investments in research while preliminarily preparing for facility upgrades and activities associated with supporting the next Astrophysics decadal. In addition to this support, partnerships should be explored when feasible to maximize research capabilities at such facilities.
One of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas includes pursuing multi-messenger research that utilizes NSF’s previous investments in both physics and astronomy to simultaneously study cosmic events in light, particles, and gravitational waves. NSF is encouraged to support both ongoing operations of existing and future NSF funded astronomy and physics facilities within its budget as part of their 10 Big Idea planning.
House: The Committee believes it is strategically important to preserve U.S. leadership in quantum computing and urges NSF to make significant investments in this area. The Committee commends NSF on its commitment to 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 leaps in computational simulation and data analyses for the broad range of research the Nation requires and as recommended by the recent National Research Council (NRC) report, Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017–2020. Within 180 days of enactment of this Act, NSF shall provide the Committee with an update on its high-performance computing investment plans as well as a response to the NRC report and its plans to incorporate, to the extent practicable, the NRC’s recommendations regarding NSF’s approach for maintaining and modernizing its supercomputing capabilities at existing or future facilities.
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 developing and supporting systems that facilitate tremendous leaps in computational simulation including artificial intelligence, storage, quantum computing, and data analyses that enable a broad range of scientific research. Leading edge high-performance computing infrastructure is vital for continued U.S. world leadership and international scientific competitiveness, particularly given computational investments and technical achievements in high-performance computing by other nations, notably China and Japan. The Committee recommends that NSF establish a timely, well-funded budget line in future budget submissions to Congress to support world-class leadership computing for the national open science community.
Major Research Instrumentation
House: The recommendation includes not less than the budget request for the Major Research Instrumentation program to ensure NSF has sufficient resources to support instrumentation across all fields of NSF-supported research.
High energy lasers
House: In further pursuit of [NSF’s Big Ideas] goals, the Committee recommends that NSF support experimental research capabilities in the mid-scale range for potential experiments and facilities that fill current research gaps, including research to support high energy laser (HEL) technologies. The expansion of HEL technologies such as propagation, propulsion, generation, communication, metrology, and energy transfer is vital to national defense, space exploration, and economic competitiveness.
USArray monitor transfer
Senate: The Committee encourages NSF to continue its work with the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] to transfer monitoring stations in seismically active areas with sparse instrumentation to the USGS that NSF had planned to be removed in 2019.
Senate: NSF has been working in conjunction with the NOAA to build up to a full research campaign to study the unique characteristics of tornadoes in the southeast. The large VORTEX–SE field campaign is expected to take place in the spring of 2020. The previous field campaigns in 2016 and 2017 have provided important new insights into the observing strategy for the larger VORTEX–SE field campaign and the field data collected as part of these campaigns is currently being assimilated into storm-scale models, which in turn enables improvements in tornado forecast capability. In preparation for the 2020 field campaign, the Committee expects that future budget requests for VORTEX–SE will include adequate budgetary resources for associated research and instrumentation that will maximize the scientific return of the 2020 field campaign. As part of VORTEX–SE, the Committee encourages NSF to look beyond its traditional research disciplines and programs and to utilize the collaborative opportunities of the Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events 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.
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope / Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope
House: The recommendation includes $123,820,000 for LSST. 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. The recommendation includes the requested amount of $16,130,000 for DKIST, which when complete will be the most powerful solar observatory on Earth. Completion of construction is planned for no later than June 2020.
Senate: The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the requested level for the continued construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.
Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science
House: The Committee supports the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science program and the 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. NSF shall allocate resources necessary to modernize the Antarctic infrastructure and keep the Committee informed regarding the status of this activity.
Senate: Finally, NSF is directed to fund the construction effort associated with the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science [AIMS] project through the MREFC account and provides $95,104,000 with the remainder of the funding for AIMS provided within the Research and Related Activities account.
Regional Class Research Vessels
House: The recommendation includes $127,090,000 for the construction of three RCRVs required to replace aging academic research vessels.
Senate: In addition, the Committee provides the requested $28,700,000 in order to complete funding for the second Regional Class Research Vessel [RCRV] and $60,500,000 to begin the funding for the third RCRV.
Senate: The Committee encourages GAO to continue its annual review of programs funded within MREFC so that GAO can report to Congress shortly after each annual budget submission of the President and semiannually thereafter on the status of large-scale NSF projects and activities based on its review of this information. The Committee notes that MREFC has a ‘‘no cost overrun’’ policy and expects GAO’s analysis to address any NSF adjustments to proposed activities and scope.
Education and Human Resources
Advanced Technological Education
House: The recommendation provides no less than the fiscal year 2018 level for the ATE program.
Senate: The Committee provides $66,000,000 for Advanced Technological Education.
House: NSF shall continue to award competitive, merit-reviewed grants to support STEM education as authorized by the STEM Education Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–59). In addition, the Committee expects NSF to provide grants for research about STEM education approaches and the STEM-related workforce in order to develop innovations in mentoring, training and apprenticeships.
Fellowships and scholarships
Senate: The Committee does not adopt the proposed funding reductions for the NSF Scholarships in STEM, Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, or the Graduate Research Fellowship and instead provides the fiscal year 2018 funding level for these programs.
Informal science education
Senate: The Committee maintains its strong support for NSF’s informal science education program and provides no less than $62,500,000 for Advancing Informal STEM Learning and $51,880,000 for STEM+C Partnerships. The Committee encourages 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. The Education and Human Resources directorate is further encouraged to continue its NSF-wide efforts to support informal STEM education programs, including leveraging the research directorates to support activities that match their respective content areas. As part of the research funded through the Division of Research on Learning [DRL] in Formal and Informal Settings, 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 in STEM
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; $64,500,000 for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program; and $14,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. Hispanic Serving Institutions and the HSI grant program play an important role in increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of Hispanic students pursuing STEM degrees. The Committee directs NSF to fund the HSI-specific program and demonstrate a $50,000,000 investment no later than September 30, 2019.
Senate: The Committee recommends $35,000,000 for the HBCUs Undergraduate Program, $8,000,000 for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, $46,000,0000 for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, $15,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, and $24,000,000 for Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology. In addition, $30,000,000 is provided for the Hispanic Serving Institutions program to build capacity at institutions of higher education that typically do not receive high levels of NSF funding.
The Committee supports the Big Idea to broaden participation in science and engineering by developing networks and partnerships that involve organizations and consortia from different sectors committed to the common agenda of STEM inclusion, and the recommendation provides $20,000,000 for INCLUDES.
Advancement of women in STEM
Senate: The Committee is supportive of the Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers program, which funds efforts to address the systemic barriers to women’s STEM careers. To maintain these efforts, the Committee provides $18,000,000, the same as the fiscal year 2018 funding level.
House: The recommendation includes no less than the fiscal year 2018 level for the NSF Innovation Corps program to support new and existing I–Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes.
Senate: The Committee provides no less than the fiscal year 2018 amount for the Innovation Corps [I–Corps] program to build on the successes of its innovative public-private partnership model. Technology transfer is an important contributor to 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. The Committee encourages NSF to facilitate greater participation in the program from academic institutions in States that have not previously received awards.