The gloomy weather outside the Capitol building seemed to mirror the atmosphere inside the Senate chamber last Saturday night, as senators contemplated a 3,000-page pile of unbound paper on their desks that was the culmination of this year's budget cycle. With nine appropriations bills yet unpassed, both the House and Senate essentially took the only available option left to them, and passed this omnibus bill that few, if any, Members had read.
Buried within these 3,000 pages were eight pages on the National Science Foundation. This bill cuts NSF's budget by 1.9% for FY 2005. This $105.0 million reduction brings the foundation's new budget down to $5,472.8 million from its current level of $5,577.8 million. This action is contrary to the position of the Bush Administration, which had requested a 3.0% increase.
Under H.R. 4818, funding for RESEARCH AND RELATED ACTIVITIES remains approximately level, declining by 0.7% or $30.8 million, from $4,251.4 million to $4,220.6 million. The conference report language gives the NSF Director the power to allocate this money among the programs and directorates, except in a few cases specified in this latest report. The report language states, "the Foundation is urged to maintain the proper balance between interdisciplinary research and single-issue research in core disciplines." No funding levels were specified for the MPS, GEO, or ENG programs. The Office of Polar Programs was given a specific budget of $347.2 million, which was an increase of 1.5% or $5.1 million. The conferees did mention that up to $5.0 million could be allocated for the "completion of a design and development study for the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope if the Director of the Foundation determines such funding is warranted based upon private sector interest and commitment, other astronomical science needs, and subject to approval by the National Science Board."
The MAJOR RESEARCH EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES CONSTRUCTION budget receives a 12.1% or $18.7 million increase. Congress gave the Administration essentially what it requested for ALMA and EarthScope. IceCube received $47.6 million, considerably more than the $33.4 million that the Administration requested. The Rare Symmetry Violating Processes did not do nearly as well, with the bill providing $14.9 million of the $30.0 million that NSF sought. The Scientific Ocean Drilling vessel also did not do well, receiving $14.9 million of the $40.9 million that was requested.
EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES funding declines 10.4% or $97.6 million in this fiscal year. The conferees provided $79.4 million for the Math and Science Partnerships program, retaining it in this directorate. The Administration had requested $80.0 million for this program in the Research and Related Activities Directorate, a proposed transfer that was widely criticized on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) spoke about the NSF funding level in H.R. 4818, stating:
"While I understand the need to make hard choices in the face of fiscal constraint, I do not see the wisdom in putting science funding far behind other priorities. We have cut NSF despite the fact that this omnibus bill increases spending for the 2005 fiscal year, so clearly we could find room to grow basic research while maintaining fiscal constraint. But not only are we not keeping pace with inflationary growth, we are actually cutting the portion basic research receives in the overall budget." He continued, "This decision shows dangerous disregard for our nation's future, and I am both concerned and astonished that we would make this decision at a time when other nations continue to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase their funding of basic research. We cannot hope to fight jobs lost to international competition without a well-trained and educated workforce. If we want to remain competitive in the international marketplace, we must provide funding that stimulates innovation and supports education. Within our borders, NSF supports technological innovation that has been, and remains, crucial to the sustained economic prosperity that America has enjoyed for several decades. This innovation is made possible, in large measure, by NSF support of basic scientific research, particularly in the physical sciences. Research at NSF not only underpins physical science research, but lays the foundation for work in the health sciences and medicine as well. Reducing this funding is extremely short-sighted."