The budget for research programs at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology will remain flat in fiscal year 2019, while funding for research facility construction will drop sharply following last year’s one-time funding boost for building renovations.
Final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2019 provides the National Institute of Standards and Technology with $986 million, an 18 percent cut from the previous year. The drop is entirely due to a $213 million decrease in the budget for facility construction, which Congress funded at an elevated level in fiscal year 2018. The accounts that support NIST’s research and industrial services programs will receive the same amounts as last year.
The legislation is accompanied by an explanatory statement containing policy and funding direction for the agency. Unless negated in the final statement, language from the reports that accompany the House and Senate’s original versions of the legislation is also valid. Tables detailing final funding levels for agency programs are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Research Facility Construction
The legislation provides $106 million for construction of research facilities, $3 million below the fiscal year 2017 level, and stipulates that at least $75 million go toward addressing the agency’s “most pressing” safety, capacity, maintenance, and major repair projects. The total amount is far below the $319 million Congress provided last year to accelerate renovations of the Radiation Physics Building at NIST’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the main building at the agency’s campus in Boulder, Colorado.
NIST still has a large backlog of facility repair and modernization projects. To articulate its vision for these projects over the next two decades, NIST recently developed “master plans” for facility construction at its Gaithersburg and Boulder campuses. The Senate report “commends” NIST for its work on these documents and directs the agency to include implementation plans for each in its budget submission for fiscal year 2020.
(Image credit – NIST)
Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS)
The legislation provides flat funding of $725 million for the STRS account, which supports NIST’s laboratories, user facilities, and grant programs. The accompanying statement notes that Congress “rejects the proposed terminations and reductions for all STRS programs” and specifies that a host of specific programs will receive “no less than fiscal year 2018 funding.” Among them are NIST’s quantum science program and its Centers for Neutron Research and Nanoscale Science.
The bulk of STRS funding supports laboratories focused on measurement science, engineering, communications technology, and information technology. The House recommends that NIST’s “laboratory programs” should receive no less funding than last year, and the Senate directs NIST to produce a detailed spending plan for its “highest priority laboratory programs.”
The House and Senate reports also include instructions for a number of specific research activities. For instance, the Senate provides up to $5 million to establish a “consortium between NIST and public and private sector entities for the purpose of advancing the fields of quantum science and engineering.” NIST is currently in the process of forming a Quantum Economic Development Consortium as part of the National Quantum Initiative.
Both reports express support for NIST’s increased focus on “post-impact disaster studies” and pre-impact mitigation activities as part of its National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. “As recent disasters illustrate, the U.S. needs more focused research and development on how to make buildings, infrastructure, and communities more resistant and resilient to hurricane impacts, from both wind and storm surge,” the House report states, directing NIST to prioritize funding for extramural research on the topic.
The Senate report calls out several areas of materials research as priorities. Stating that other countries are ahead of the U.S. in patenting applications of graphene, it directs NIST to consider establishing a center of excellence for the material and encourages it to “designate industry and academic institutions with expertise, existing capabilities, and infrastructure related to the commercial application of graphene.” It also comments on the value of research into composite materials, metals-based additive manufacturing, plastic and polymeric materials, and sports helmets.
Industrial Technology Services
For the second year in a row, Congress rejects the Trump administration’s proposal to zero out funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which provides technical assistance to U.S. businesses to improve the competitiveness of domestic manufacturing. The legislation instead provides $140 million for the program, equal to last year’s amount. It also provides $15 million for NIST’s contribution to Manufacturing USA, a national network of advanced manufacturing institutes. Of the total, up to $5 million is for NIST’s role in coordinating activities across the network. The Senate further directs NIST to “minimize administrative costs in order to provide more direct support for research and development.”