FY20 Appropriations Bills: National Institute of Standards and Technology

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Publication date: 
4 October 2019
Number: 
86

Both the House and Senate are seeking to increase the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s budget by about 5% to $1.04 billion for fiscal year 2020. Most of the new resources would go toward quantum information science, artificial intelligence, and facility construction projects.

House and Senate appropriators are seeking to expand the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s current $986 million budget by $55 million and $53 million, respectively, rejecting the Trump administration’s request for a 30% cut. The proposed increases are distributed across accounts that fund research, facility construction, and manufacturing programs.

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FY20 Budget Proposals: NIST

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The House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports that accompany their spending bills provide additional funding and policy proposals. Summary-level figures are collected in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker.

Selected priority research areas

The Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account funds NIST’s laboratory programs and extramural research activities. The House proposes a $27 million increase for the account, while the Senate seeks a $29 million increase. Much of the additional resources are directed toward quantum information science and artificial intelligence research.

Quantum research. Both committee reports convey support for NIST’s role in implementing the National Quantum Initiative Act. The House report directs NIST to provide its quantum information science (QIS) activities at least $8 million more than they received in fiscal year 2019 and encourages the agency to expand collaboration with industry, universities, and federal laboratories. The Senate report specifies QIS activities should receive $10 million above the current level and “commends” NIST for creating a Quantum Economic Development Consortium. NIST had requested a $10 million boost above a current budget of $30 million for QIS to support operations of the consortium and to expand its existing quantum research centers at the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado Boulder. Both universities have already begun to expand their QIS research programs.

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NIST Kibble Balance

NIST scientists use a Kibble balance to make extremely precise measurements of Plank’s constant, a key quantity in quantum physics. Such measurements enabled the recent redefinition of the fundamental unit of mass.

(Image credit – Curt Suplee / NIST)

Artificial intelligence. The House report directs NIST to increase funding for artificial intelligence programs by $4 million over fiscal 2019 levels, while the Senate calls for an $8 million increase to “ongoing AI research and measurement science efforts, in support of the administration’s Industries of the Future initiative.” The Senate report also directs NIST to “develop resources for government, corporate, and academic uses of AI to train and test systems, model AI behavior, and compare systems.”

Microelectronics. Noting the importance of microelectronics to economic and national security, the Senate report allocates $5 million for NIST to “develop and deliver material characterization, standards, and analytical tools needed for advancing microelectronics technology.” It is unclear from the report language whether the Senate intends for this amount to come on top of the current funding level. NIST had requested $10 million over a base amount of $22.5 million to advance measurement science for microelectronics applications, including through holding workshops to solicit industry input on measurement needs and creating a program to assess the performance of compact photonic integrated circuits.

5G telecommunications. Expressing concern about “a lack of criteria and processes to evaluate evolving threats associated with emerging telecommunications technologies,” the House report directs NIST to “accelerate efforts to coordinate among industry to promote voluntary security standards and the development of measurement tools to increase spectrum efficiency.”

Climate change resilience. Raising concerns about the adequacy of current building standards in a changing climate, the House report directs NIST to “identify a consistent and authoritative set of climate information that emphasizes forward-looking climate data and projections that should be utilized in the standard-setting process.” The report states such information will aid development of voluntary building standards that take into account “increasingly extreme weather events and other climate change challenges.”

Helmet safety. Referencing research that suggests concussions can cause severe neural diseases, the Senate report encourages NIST to assess “inadequacies of sports helmets while exploring future product designs that can safely reduce the neural risk of playing football, hockey, and other high-impact sports.” It also directs the agency to consider creating a “national testing standard to inform the development of youth-specific helmet safety standards.”

Materials research. The House and Senate reports contain direction specific to research and standards setting for metals-based additive manufacturing, pyrrhotite in concrete aggregate, polymeric materials, composites, and graphene.

Research facility construction

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NIST Radiation Physics Building ribbon cutting ceremony

NIST recently added a wing to the Radiation Physics Building on its campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), third and fifth from left, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony in September.

(Image credit – J. Stoughton / NIST)

The House proposes to increase NIST’s budget for facility construction and repair from $106 million to $120 million, and the Senate proposes an increase to $123 million.

Within these amounts, the House specifies that funding for Safety, Capacity, Maintenance, and Major Repairs (SCMMR) should increase from $75 million to at least $77.5 million, while the Senate specifies $80 million. The administration requested $41 million for SCMMR despite the agency’s large backlog of maintenance projects, which NIST’s budget documentation attributes to persistent underinvestment in the account.

As NIST received a funding boost in fiscal year 2018 necessary to complete a $327 million modernization of the Radiation Physics Building at its Maryland campus, the agency is now focusing on modernizing the main building on its campus in Boulder, Colorado. Neither chamber adopts NIST’s proposal to create a Federal Capital Revolving Fund that would finance the building renovations, which the agency estimates will cost $288 million. The Senate instead specifies the project should receive at least $43 million through the regular facility construction account.

Industrial technology services

For the third year in a row, the House and Senate both reject the administration’s proposal to terminate the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which provides technical assistance to U.S. manufacturing companies. The House instead seeks a 10% increase to $154 million, while the Senate specifies $146 million.

Both chambers also propose slight budget increases for NIST’s contribution to Manufacturing USA, a national network of public-private advanced manufacturing institutes. Noting that the Senate recently passed legislation to update policy for the program, the Senate report directs NIST to issue $1 million in competitively awarded grants to “develop technology roadmaps for promising advanced manufacturing clusters.”

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