Congress is working to pass fiscal year 2023 spending legislation by the end of this week. Although the finalized package falls well short of the ambitious funding targets set in the CHIPS and Science Act, it does include funding increases across science agencies that generally keep up with inflation and in some cases delivers double-digit percentage increases.
Congressional leaders finalized a fiscal year 2023 appropriations package at the beginning of this week and are rushing to send it to President Biden before the Christmas holiday.
In the end, Republicans used their leverage in the Senate and impending control over the House to negotiate larger overall increases in defense spending and smaller ones in non-defense spending than Democrats wanted. In an echo of last year’s budget cycle, the agreement led many funding proposals Democratic appropriators developed for science agencies to be pared back. Even still, most agencies will receive increases keeping pace with inflation, and a few are in line for double-digit percentage increases.
Budget increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Energy Office of Science ended up falling well short of the ambitious targets set for them in the CHIPS and Science Act. However, the act did influence the final outcome, with negotiators including $1 billion extra for NSF via a special supplemental section of the package that is otherwise primarily aimed at providing disaster relief. Democrats highlighted it as the largest dollar increase the agency has ever received.
Congress included instructions on how agencies should spend their appropriations through explanatory statements and reports prepared by House appropriators. Summary figures are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Supplements offered vehicle for extra science funds
Aside from NSF, several other science agencies also received some funding through the disaster supplement and another special appropriation supplying aid to Ukraine.
The supplements presented lawmakers with a convenient vehicle to include more science funding during the final phases of negotiation, because that money does not count against the agreed-on limits on overall federal spending. At the same time, the use of such vehicles means that to sustain the elevated funding lawmakers will need to either make extra room in agencies’ ordinary budgets or broker new supplements, even as the incoming House Republican majority aims to constrain federal spending.
The supplement-laden outcome also deepens the complexity currently characterizing federal science funding. The CHIPS and Science Act only became law partway through this budget cycle and advocates are sure to press for appropriations to meet the targets set for fiscal year 2024. At the same time, some agencies are ramping up spending from the multi-year budgets already provided through other supplemental sources, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the semiconductor provisions in the CHIPS and Science Act.
National Science Foundation
NSF’s total budget is rising 12% to $9.88 billion, with the entirety of the $1 billion increase provided through the disaster relief supplement. The increase is about half as large as the administration requested and $2 billion below what the CHIPS and Science Act recommended.
As usual, the spending package does not set budget levels for any of NSF’s directorates, including the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act. However, it does instruct NSF to use $335 million of the supplemental funds to implement the act. NSF is likely to use a portion of those funds to establish its first Regional Innovation Engines, which are intended to complement a new Regional Technology Hub program in the Commerce Department that was also authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act. (The disaster supplement includes $459 million to jumpstart that program.)
The package instructs NSF to maintain at least level funding for “core research,” defined to include existing research infrastructure. Looking to future facilities, it directs NSF to spend up to $30 million on design of next-generation astronomy facilities recommended in the latest astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey but does not add any new facilities to NSF’s queue of major construction projects.
National Institute of Standards and Technology
NIST’s topline budget is increasing 32% to $1.6 billion, with about half of the additional money going to earmarked projects outside the agency. Earmarks excluded, the budget for NIST’s main research account is increasing 10% to $890 million and the budget for maintaining agency facilities is increasing 63% to $130 million, whereas the CHIPS and Science Act recommended increases to $979 million and $200 million, respectively.
The reintroduction of congressional earmarks last year impinged on what was otherwise a large increase in NIST’s topline. This year’s earmarks total $395 million and will variously fund construction projects, equipment acquisition, research, and education initiatives. The largest are $45 million for a hydrological research facility at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa and $35 million for a math and science facility at the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, the home state of retiring Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL).
New details are provided in the explanatory statement on how NIST is allocating the $7 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and R&D funding it is receiving this fiscal year through the CHIPS and Science Act. Of the $2 billion for R&D, $100 million is going to in-house metrology research and $490 million to a new program dedicated to advanced semiconductor packaging.
NIST’s contribution to the Manufacturing USA network of institutes is jumping nearly five-fold to $98 million, with the help of the CHIPS Act and supplemental funds. Most of the new money will go toward establishing an institute focused on semiconductors and another with a focus area to be determined through a competitive process.
DOE Office of Science
The budget for the Department of Energy Office of Science is increasing 8% to $8.1 billion. While that falls well short of the $8.9 billion CHIPS and Science Act target, it does significantly exceed the $7.8 billion requested. In addition, the office has just received a one-time $1.55 billion boost through the IRA that will advance the office’s portfolio of major projects.
As expected, the appropriation completes funding for an upgrade to Argonne National Lab’s Advanced Photon Source that is scheduled to begin installation in April. It also provides nearly all the remaining funding needed for beam upgrades at Oak Ridge National Lab’s Spallation Neutron Source and Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
On top of its $138 million IRA boost, the Electron-Ion Collider project at Brookhaven National Lab is to receive at least $70 million — $40 million more than requested. Combined, the IRA and appropriations money will multiply the project’s current budget and should put it in a good position to begin construction before the 2025 shutdown of its predecessor facility, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.
DOE Applied Energy
The budgets for the DOE Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Nuclear Energy, and Fossil Energy and Carbon Management are all receiving increases in the range of 7% to 8%. This includes $300 million of the Office of Nuclear Energy budget that was transferred out of the office’s own account into the Ukraine supplement.
Some of the Biden administration’s more ambitious proposals were rejected. The $3.46 billion EERE budget falls well short of the $4.94 billion requested. The administration also sought an additional $350 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy in lieu of an earlier proposal to create a new ARPA focused on climate change mitigation, but Congress only boosted ARPA–E’s budget by $20 million to $470 million.
Those outcomes are of course counterbalanced by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which funded a massive new DOE technology demonstration portfolio, as well as the roughly $370 billion the IRA provided across the government for climate change mitigation and resilience measures.
Although Congress is supporting an array of efforts to commercialize new nuclear reactor designs, it continued to provide nothing for the proposed multi-billion-dollar Versatile Test Reactor user facility at Idaho National Lab. It also provided none of the $45 million requested to fund a new university-based research reactor. However, an earmark in the NIST budget provides $20 million for work on a “next generation” reactor at the University of Missouri, which currently hosts a major reactor facility that started operations in 1966.
National Nuclear Security Administration
NNSA’s base budget is rising 7% to $22.2 billion, double the requested increase. Much of the additional funding will go to ramping up efforts to reestablish plutonium production facilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.
Funding for the Stockpile Research, Technology, and Engineering portfolio will increase 3% to just over $3 billion. The Inertial Confinement Fusion program budget is outpacing the overall increase with a 9% boost to $630 million, contrasting with the 6% cut requested. Congress also directs the program to increase funding for the National Ignition Facility to at least $380 million, $30 million more than it specified last year. The boost comes just after the facility achieved the first-ever net-energy gain from a controlled fusion reaction.
Outside its base budget, NNSA is receiving $126 million in supplemental funds for nuclear nonproliferation efforts in Ukraine. The Biden administration has stated it will use the money to help secure nuclear and radiological materials and to augment Ukrainian capabilities with new sensors and equipment.
Department of Defense
Including $319 million from the Ukraine supplement, the budget for DOD’s portfolio of Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) programs is surging 17% to $144 billion, pushing past an already historic high to reach a level that is double the total from seven years ago. Within this amount, funding for basic research programs is rising 6% to $2.9 billion, rejecting a proposed 14% cut. The result continues a recent trend of Congress routinely exceeding DOD’s requested budgets for early-stage research.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s budget is increasing 5% to $4.07 billion, with much of the additional money going to advanced computing projects such as the Electronics Resurgence Initiative. Via the CHIPS and Science Act, DOD is also receiving $400 million this fiscal year to begin establishing a “microelectronics commons,” which will aim to smooth the transition of new semiconductor technologies from laboratory prototypes to mass-produced products.
NASA’s budget is increasing 6% to $25.4 billion, including $367 million via the disaster supplement, and within that topline funding for the Science Mission Directorate is rising 2% to $7.8 billion, about half the requested increase. Despite that shortfall, flagship missions such as Mars Sample Return, Europa Clipper, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope are receiving their requested funding level.
Congress is also providing $90 million for the Near Earth Object Surveyor, which the administration sought to cut back from $110 million to $40 million, and the report “notes concern” about NASA’s proposal to push back the mission’s target launch date from 2026 to 2028. The appropriation is providing $30 million to close out operations of the now-terminated SOFIA airborne telescope, a mission that Congress had protected against earlier cancellation threats.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NOAA’s topline budget is increasing 6% to $6.2 billion. The agency’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is outpacing the overall increase with a 17% boost to $761 million, spread across weather, climate, and oceans research. The office’s procurement budget is doubling to $100 million to support ongoing expansion of supercomputing capabilities and to launch a new project to develop a next-generation weather radar system.
NOAA is also receiving $828 million in the disaster supplement. About half the money will go to acquiring aircraft capable of flying into hurricanes, known as Hurricane Hunters. NOAA commonly receives special appropriations following major natural disasters, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the IRA are further providing the agency with more than $6 billion over the next five years.
U.S. Geological Survey
The USGS budget is increasing 7% to nearly $1.5 billion, about a third of the requested increase. The additional money is distributed across programs that research natural hazards preparedness, energy and mineral resources, ecosystems, and water resources.
USGS is also receiving the funding it requested for construction of a new minerals research facility at the Colorado School of Mines, which was partially funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The infrastructure law is also supplementing the Earth MRI mineral resources mapping initiative with $64 million this fiscal year, while the IRA has just given a one-time $23.5 million boost to the agency’s 3D Elevation Program.
National Institutes of Health
NIH’s base budget is increasing 6% to $47.5 billion, excluding funding for the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. ARPA–H is a signature initiative of President Biden, who requested $5 billion for it this year within NIH’s budget. However, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion to it, a 50% increase over its inaugural budget, through an account external to NIH.
The spending legislation resolves a longstanding dispute over ARPA–H’s relationship to NIH by placing it within the larger agency while requiring that the budget request for it be handled separately. The legislation also grants the secretary of health and human services authority to exempt ARPA–H from NIH policies and requires it to be headquartered away from the main NIH campus with offices in at least three geographic areas.
Critics have argued that making ARPA–H independent of NIH would help it develop a distinct culture of innovation and that housing it in NIH could sap resources from existing NIH programs. The Biden administration advocated for keeping the two agencies tied together, pointing particularly to NIH’s established administrative capacity as a resource ARPA–H can draw on as it finds its footing.
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