The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s base budget rose 16% to $1.24 billion for fiscal year 2023, not counting one-time supplemental funds and congressional earmarks. The agency is also administering billions of dollars the CHIPS and Science Act has provided for semiconductor manufacturing and R&D initiatives.
Congress appropriated $1.65 billion for the National Institute of Standards and Technology for fiscal year 2023, an increase of 32%. Excluding one-time supplemental and earmarked spending, the agency’s base budget for the year is $1.23 billion, a 16% increase over last year’s level though short of the 38% boost the Biden administration requested. The CHIPS and Science Act recommended that Congress appropriate $1.55 billion to the agency for the year.
The budget supports several administration priorities, including the Manufacturing USA and Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs as well as R&D initiatives in quantum information science (QIS), climate change preparedness, artificial intelligence, and other areas.
Of $395 million in earmarks, most are for university-based projects. The appropriation also includes $67 million in supplemental funds, of which $27 million is allocated to NIST’s manufacturing programs and the remainder to disaster preparedness work, such as developing resilience standards and investigating high-profile building structure failures.
Congressional direction for fiscal year 2023 is included in an explanatory statement accompanying the appropriations legislation, as well as a report prepared by House appropriators. Summary figures are compiled in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Earmarks on the rise
Congressional earmarks in NIST’s budget increased nearly 150% compared to last year, directing funding to 65 projects, primarily for university-based research, education, and facilities construction. Many of the new projects are tangential to NIST’s core mission, though some are for projects related to agency work in areas such as QIS, advanced manufacturing, and standards.
The largest earmark is $45 million to build a high-performance computing facility for water and hydrological research at the University of Alabama. Other major earmarks include $35 million for construction of a mathematics and science facility at the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, $28 million for planning and construction of a cancer research facility at the University of Kansas, and $20 million for a “next generation” research reactor at the University of Missouri.
Repeating instructions for last year’s earmarks, Congress directs NIST to “perform the same level of oversight and due diligence as with any other external partners” when administering earmarked funds.
Administration priorities supported
NIST’s core research account, Scientific and Technical Research Services, rose 9% to $930 million, excluding earmarks and supplemental funds. The budget for advanced manufacturing programs, funded through the Industrial Technology Services account, grew 21% to $212 million excluding supplemental funding. While the final agreement fell short of the requests for these accounts, appropriators generally supported the agency’s proposed budgetary direction.
Advanced manufacturing. The Manufacturing USA program base budget more than doubled to $37 million, primarily to establish a new competitively awarded advanced manufacturing institute, and the program also received $14 million through supplemental funds. The administration had requested nearly $100 million to establish four new institutes. Through the CHIPS and Science Act, the program received $47 million for this fiscal year to establish institutes specifically focused on semiconductors. For the competitively awarded institute, NIST is instructed to solicit applications broadly across all focus areas outlined by Congress when it reauthorized the Manufacturing USA program in 2019.
QIS. NIST is directed to spend no less than $54 million on QIS, $5 million more than the minimum Congress specified last year. In the House report, lawmakers also encouraged NIST to support development of quantum computing hardware that is “technology neutral” and instructed the agency to “evaluate the potential for public-private partnerships to develop and deploy practical quantum applications that government and the private sector can utilize within one to three years so that the government may have the benefit of near-term applications, while also researching next-generation technology.”
AI. NIST is directed to increase funding for AI research and measurement science by at least $4 million above last year’s budget of about $34 million. The agency is also tasked with developing “resources for government, corporate, and academic uses of AI to train and test systems, model AI behavior, and compare systems.” Consistent with this language and previous congressional directives, this month NIST released the initial version of its Artificial Intelligence Risk Management Framework, providing guidance to organizations designing, developing, deploying, or using AI systems.
Climate and clean energy. The budget for NIST’s climate and energy measurements, tools, and testbeds portfolio is rising by at least $11.5 million, with $1.5 million of the increase allocated to carbon dioxide capture and removal research and up to $1.5 million to research on wildfires in the wildland-urban interface. In addition, $4 million of the increase is for establishing a NIST Center of Excellence that will “establish national standards and measurements for tracking climate change and its impact” and be located “in a state with existing requirements to reduce greenhouse gases and track climate impacts.”
The explanatory statement also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide NIST with an “authoritative set of climate information that emphasizes forward-looking climate data and projections,” for use in the agency’s standards-development processes. NOAA and NIST are also instructed to provide Congress with an assessment of federal agency needs for meteorological information and associated decision-support tools relevant to infrastructure planning, such as building codes.
Standards initiatives. Congress allocated up to the $8 million requested for a new initiative to improve U.S. preparations for international standards-setting negotiations on emerging technologies. NIST plans to cultivate a cohort of “standards liaisons” within the federal government and to establish a competitively awarded Standards Center of Excellence that would convene workshops with various stakeholders. Congress also allocated up to $5 million to help address shortages in reference materials and modernize the agency’s standards-delivery processes, in part by digitizing certain services through a “metrology cloud.”
Workforce diversity. NIST received an increase of up to $2.5 million for its STEM workforce diversity efforts, short of the $6 million increase requested. The agency plans to use the money to hire postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented backgrounds through a new program analogous to its longstanding fellowship program run in partnership with the National Academies.
Invention reporting. NIST is allocated up to the $2 million increase it requested to modernize iEdison, the official web portal for reporting inventions developed at federal agencies. NIST has assumed responsibility over the portal from the National Institutes of Health and plans to make the system capable of hosting data from all federal agencies by 2025. The new system will also aim to increase reporting compliance and enable better tracking of outcomes such as patents and whether resulting products are being manufactured domestically or abroad.
Facility repair budget increasing
Maintenance backlogs. After several years of holding NIST facilities repair budget relatively flat, Congress increased it by 62% to $130 million for this fiscal year to help address a chronic backlog of deferred maintenance at agency laboratories, which are mostly located in Maryland and Colorado. This amount exceeds the request by $10 million, though the backlog is estimated by NIST at $834 million and includes mission-critical upgrades for utility infrastructure as well as needed accessibility improvements for people with disabilities. The National Academies is releasing an assessment of NIST’s capital facility needs next week.
Reactor restart. The reactor at NIST’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) has been offline since February 2021, when a refueling error resulted in a radiation incident. Within its research account, NIST requested a $10 million increase for the facility to complete repair work and ensure the sustainability of corrective actions required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the reactor can restart. However, Congress only allocated up to $5 million for these efforts and it is unclear how that will affect the timing of the restart, which NCNR had hoped to achieve last year.
CHIPS Act allocations coming into focus
Separate from its own budget, NIST is also administering $7 billion the CHIPS and Science Act provided to the Commerce Department for fiscal year 2023 to fund major semiconductor initiatives. This includes $5 billion of the total $39 billion the act will provide to incentivize domestic manufacturing and $2 billion of the $11 billion total for R&D initiatives. The act already provided $19 billion and $5 billion of the respective totals in fiscal year 2022.
Within the $2 billion allocated to R&D initiatives for this fiscal year, NIST is directed to spend $1.3 billion on “research acquisitions and management,” an activity that apparently supports the spin-up of a National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC). Of the remaining funds, $490 million is for a new advanced packaging manufacturing program, $100 million is for NIST’s in-house metrology program, and $47 million is for the Manufacturing USA program.
NIST and the Commerce Department have released an implementation strategy for these programs and appointed an advisory council. A white paper outlining requirements for the NSTC is expected in the first quarter of 2023.
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