Today, the House Science and Technology Committee is scheduled to vote on a three-year reauthorization of the National Science Foundation. The bill (H.R. 1867), which was passed by the Research and Science Education Subcommittee on April 19, would authorize annual funding increases for NSF of more than 7 percent for the fiscal years 2008 through 2010. A bipartisan effort, the bill was sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Brian Baird (D-WA), full Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN), and Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Baron Hill (D-IN).
The Research and Science Education Subcommittee's priorities for NSF were reflected in several hearings it held prior to drafting the bill (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/038.html). In addition to authorization of funding levels, the bill contains a number of provisions to nurture young investigators and postdoctoral researchers, leverage award funds, and strengthen NSF's role in science education. The full text of the bill can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/. Among the major provisions: The bill would establish a pilot program to support young investigators, under which NSF program officers could provide one-year seed funding to help new investigators improve proposals that, while rated very good or excellent by the merit review process, did not get funded. It would call for NSF, under Criterion 2 of its merit review process, to give special consideration to proposals including university-industry partnerships and addressing areas of high importance to the nation's future competitiveness. It would raise the ceiling for Major Research Instrumentation awards such that the maximum award would not exceed 10 percent of the total MRI budget in any year, and allow exceptions and waivers to the 30-percent cost-sharing requirement for certain smaller, minority-serving or undergraduate institutions. It includes a "sense of Congress" provision that the U.S. Coast Guard, not NSF, should have the responsibility and resources for operations, maintenance and construction of polar icebreakers. It would require that grant applications involving support of postdoctoral researchers explain what mentoring activities would be provided for those postdoctoral researchers.
A number of the provisions are education-related. The bill calls for a report to Congress on all K-12 and undergraduate formal and informal education activities funded through NSF's research accounts and how they are aligned with programs within the Education and Human Resources Directorate. For effective but expiring awards related to teacher professional development and broadening participation in science and engineering, it would authorize the NSF Director to extend the grant duration for up to three years without recompeting. It would also require that funding for NSF's undergraduate education programs grow at a rate at least equal to the Foundation's overall growth rate. Finally, it would provide specific authorization levels for the Math and Science Partnerships, the STEM Talent Expansion Program, the Advanced Technological Education Program, and the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program. (Noyce funding was aligned with Chairman Gordon's bill H.R. 362, which the full House just passed on April 23.)
Funding levels authorized in H.R. 1867 for NSF Research and Related Activities; Education and Human Resources; and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction are provided below. Authorization levels for other areas such as Agency Operations, the National Science Board and the Inspector General are not included, so the amounts below will not sum to the total:
Research and Related Activities: FY08: $5,080 million; FY09: $5,457 million; FY10: $5,863 million. (Current FY07 level: $4,765 million).
Education and Human Resources: FY08: $873 million; FY09: $934 million; FY10: $1,003 million. (Current FY07 level: $698 million).
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: FY08: $245 million; FY09: $262 million; FY10: $280 million. (Current FY07 level: $191 million).
NSF TOTAL: FY08: $6,500 million; FY09: $6,980 million; FY10: $7,493 million. (Current FY07 level: $5,916 million).
Please keep in mind that authorization levels are intended to provide guidance to appropriators, but do not provide actual funds. Funding is provided through appropriations bills, and may or may not align with authorization levels. Appropriators are currently developing their FY08 spending bills; NSF is funded through the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill in both chambers.
NSF 2007 Facilities Plan:
In related news, in February NSF released an update to its Facility Plan, which was first issued in September 2005 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/151.html). According to the 2007 update, "Every year new opportunities will arise and new priorities will assert themselves. As a result, no roster of potential projects is ever final. Responsible stewardship of public funds demands that all candidate efforts be evaluated and reevaluated constantly in the context of the latest, most pressing research goals and the most profoundly important unanswered questions.... This process of identification and selection is, and must be, continuously repeated.... [T]he future success of entire fields critically depends upon development of new and powerful tools."
NSF's 2007 Facility Plan (NSF 07-22), which runs approximately 54 pages, is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2007/nsf0722/nsf0722.pdf. Chapter One lays out objectives and opportunities in frontier, cutting-edge research. Chapter Two provides an updated status report on NSF's major research equipment and facilities construction projects. Appendix I, "Horizon Projects," outlines possible future opportunities for support.
Status reports are provided in Chapter Two for the following projects:
Projects in the Process of Completion: High Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER); South Pole Station Modernization Project (SPSM).
Projects Under Construction: Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA); EarthScope; IceCube Neutrino Observatory; Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel (SODV).
New Starts in FY 2007: Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV); National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON); Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).
Possible New Start in FY 2008: Advanced LIGO (AdvLIGO).
Readiness Stage Projects (ready for funding consideration): Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST).
NSF's current budget for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction is $191 million. The Administration requested $245 million (an increase of $54 million, or 29 percent) for FY 2008, and the NSF reauthorization bill described above would authorize $245 million in FY 2008 for this account, the same as the request.