FY18 Appropriations Bills: National Science Foundation

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Publication date: 
2 August 2017
Number: 
106

The House appropriations bill for the National Science Foundation would maintain funding for the agency’s research and education directorates at current levels, while the Senate bill would decrease both by 2 percent.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills that fund the National Science Foundation, largely rejecting the Trump administration's proposed $819 million, 11 percent reduction to the research agency. Both bills would provide approximately $7.3 billion, a 2 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2017 level.

The chart below shows the topline funding changes sought for each of NSF’s major accounts. Detailed tables containing funding figures for selected accounts are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.


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NSF FY18 Budget Proposals

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Below are summaries of selected provisions from the appropriations committee reports that accompany the bills. The full House report is available here and the full Senate report is available here.

Research and Related Activities

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees flatly reject the administration’s request to cut NSF’s Research and Related Activities account by 11 percent to $5.4 billion. However, the two committees diverge in prioritizing research funding at NSF, with the House proposing to maintain level funding for the research directorates at just over $6 billion, and the Senate proposing to cut the account $116 million, or 2 percent.

The bill reports do not include explicit direction on how NSF should distribute funds among its six research directorates. Language constraining the growth of the Geosciences and  Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorates was included in final appropriations in recent years, but last year’s spending agreement did not include any such direction. The House appropriations subcommittee chairman with responsibility for the NSF budget, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), last year said he no longer plans to specify directorate-level funding for the foundation.

However, the House report does emphasize that “strategic investments in the physical science areas are vitally important.”  This phrase is likely a nod to House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX)’s push to prioritize the physical sciences.

Both reports prioritize the operation of scientific facilities within the foundation’s directorates and divisions. The Senate report “encourages the NSF to fully fund its U.S. scientific research facilities and instruments to adequately support scientists and students engaged in sustained, cutting-edge research.” The House report goes further, directing NSF to “allocate no less than fiscal year 2017 levels to support its existing research infrastructure laboratories, observational networks, and other research infrastructure assets.” The committee later reiterates this direction in a section on astronomy assets, saying it expects NSF to “sustain support for the programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences Division at no less than the fiscal year 2017 levels to maintain full scientific and educational operations.”

In a section titled “Abstracts and the national interest,” the House report reiterates NSF merit review requirements enacted in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which became law this January. The Senate report does not reference AICA but says that the committee “continues to believe that NSF should include criteria that evaluates how a proposal will advance our Nation’s national security and economic interests, as well as promote the progress of science and innovation in the United States.”

The House report also directs NSF to address the Government Accountability Office’s preliminary findings from its interim assessment on indirect costs for research, which include the differences in the indirect cost rates claimed by different types of awardee organizations and inconsistency in the implementation of guidance on setting rates. The report further directs NSF to provide a report on how it will implement GAO’s recommendations in its forthcoming final report. Research overhead has been a topic of controversy and wide discussion following the Trump administration’s proposal this spring to cap reimbursements for indirect costs on National Institutes of Health grants at 10 percent of total grant cost.

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction

Both bill reports provide the requested $58 million for the ongoing construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile and $20 million for the ongoing construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii.

However, the reports diverge on the foundation’s plans to construct three new Regional Class Research Vessels that will conduct oceanographic research as part of U.S. Academic Research Fleet, reflecting an ongoing debate between the two chambers. The House report, like last year’s, provides no funding for the vessels, while the Senate report provides the requested $105 million to advance construction of three ships for the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

The House report also includes requested support for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science Program in an effort to “follow recommendations for increased efficiencies included in the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel report.”

While the House report supports NSF’s efforts to lower the $100 million minimum cost for infrastructure projects to be considered for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account, the committee directs the National Science Board to develop a report with the National Academies on how to consider “changes that would bridge the gap between the Major Research Instrumentation program and the MREFC account while also developing processes appropriate for mid-scale infrastructure, cyberinfrastructure, and instrument upgrades to be funded through the MREFC account.”

The Senate bill also would appropriate $5 million for costs associated with the ongoing relocation of NSF's headquarters to Alexandria, Virginia, expected to be completed at the beginning of fiscal year 2018.

Education and Human Resources

Both committees would reject the administration’s requested $119 million, 14 percent cut to the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate.  Paralleling its proposed changes to the NSF research account, the House report would maintain EHR funding at the fiscal year 2017 level, while the Senate report would cut it by $18 million, or 2 percent.

Of particular note, the Senate report does not accept the administration’s request to reduce funding for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), and “instead provides the fiscal year 2017 funding level” for the program. The administration has requested to halve the number of new participants to 1,000. It is unclear if the Senate directive applies to GRFP funding allocated through the research directorates or just EHR funds.

Committee report comparison

Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports that accompany the House and Senate appropriations bills.

Research and Related Activities

Merit review

House: “The Committee underscores the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114–329), which directs NSF to issue and periodically update, as appropriate, policy guidance for both Foundation staff and other Foundation merit review process participants on the importance of transparency and accountability to the outcomes made through the merit review process. Further, this law directs that each public notice of a Foundation-funded research project justify the expenditure of Federal funds by describing how the project reflects the statutory mission of the Foundation, as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.); addresses the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria; and clearly identifies the research goals of the project in a manner that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical audiences.

Further, this legislation directs NSF to apply a broader impacts review criterion to identify and demonstrate project support of the following goals: increasing the economic competitiveness of the United States; advancing of the health and welfare of the American public; supporting the national defense of the United States; enhancing partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; developing an American STEM workforce that is globally competitive through improved pre-kindergarten through grade 12 STEM education and teacher development, and improved undergraduate STEM education and instruction; improving public scientific literacy and engagement with science and technology in the United States; or expanding participation of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM.”

Senate: “The Committee continues to believe that NSF should include criteria that evaluates how a proposal will advance our Nation’s national security and economic interests, as well as promote the progress of science and innovation in the United States.”

 

Indirect costs

House: “In testimony delivered in May 2017, Preliminary Observations on Indirect Costs for Research (GAO–17–576T), GAO provided its preliminary review of trends in indirect costs for NSF’s research and education awards and its process for setting indirect cost rates. The Committee directs NSF to address GAO’s preliminary findings from its interim assessment as well as any recommendations that are made in GAO’s final report and provide a report within 120 days of enactment of this Act on NSF’s progress in implementing any GAO recommendations regarding indirect costs for research; the reasons for the increase in indirect costs as a percentage of annual award funding since 2010; and the variation in budgeted indirect costs across different types of NSF research and education awards.”

Astronomy

House: “The Committee underscores that a critical component of the nation’s scientific enterprise is the infrastructure that supports researchers in discovery science, including planetary protection. Investments to advance the frontiers of research and education in science and engineering are critical to the nation’s innovation enterprise. U.S.-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and maintain excellent world class scientific research. The Committee expects NSF to sustain support for the programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences Division at no less than the fiscal year 2017 levels to maintain full scientific and educational operations. NSF shall not implement any final divestment of infrastructure tied to the findings of its 2012 Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review without first reporting such actions to the Committee. Further, any such actions shall be carried out in accordance with relevant reprogramming requirements and new language directing Committee notification prior to disposal of assets. The Committee is aware that NSF is working with Federal, academic and private sector partners to develop plans to share future operations and maintenance costs of NSF astronomical infrastructure. NSF shall keep the Committee informed of these activities.”

Senate: “U.S.-based astronomy researchers and facilities funded through NSF continue to make groundbreaking discoveries utilizing world-class scientific research instruments and facilities. NSF funding enables research in the U.S., at facilities across the globe, and at observatories operated by universities, including the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, the National Radio Astronomy Observatories, and the National Solar Observatory. As NSF determines the appropriate levels of support for astronomy research grants by scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research and investments, the Committee expects the NSF to continue its support of world-class scientific research facilities and instrumentation to maximize its investments in research. In addition to this support, partnerships should be explored when feasible to maximize research capabilities at such facilities.”

Scientific facilities and instrumentation

House: “The Committee commends the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its academic partners for the January 2017, detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes some 3 billion light years away from Earth using the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. The Committee supports infrastructure investments such as these that expand our understanding of the universe and inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences. The Committee recognizes that current and future large scientific facilities represent an enormous investment of Federal resources that must be administered wisely. Within amounts provided, NSF shall allocate no less than fiscal year 2017 levels to support its existing research laboratories, observational networks, and other research infrastructure assets, including the astronomy assets, the current academic research fleet including global class vessels with unique seismic capabilities, Federally funded research and development centers, and the national high performance computing centers, so they may provide the support needed for cutting edge research.”

Senate: “A critical component of the Nation’s scientific enterprise is the infrastructure that supports researchers in discovery science. Investments to advance the frontiers of research and education in science and engineering are critical to the Nation’s innovation enterprise. The Committee encourages the NSF to fully fund its U.S. scientific research facilities and instruments to adequately support scientists and students engaged in sustained, cutting-edge research.”

High performance computing

Senate: “The Committee commends NSF on its continuing commitment to its high-performance computing and data analysis capabilities and urges NSF to make timely and significant investments in high-performance computing. NSF should remain committed to developing and supporting systems that facilitate tremendous leaps in computational simulation and data analyses that enable a broad range of scientific research and encourages NSF to release a public roadmap outlining the scope and timing of these investments.”

Vortex-SE

Senate: “NSF has been working in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] to build up to a full research campaign to study the unique characteristics of tornadoes in the southeast. The VORTEX–SE field campaigns in calendar years 2016 and 2017 have provided important new insights into the observing strategy for the large VORTEX–SE field campaign expected to take place in spring of 2020. NSF currently plans on conducting additional workshops ahead of the full campaign to fully incorporate lessons learned from the initial field work that has recently been completed. In preparation for the 2020 field campaign, the Committee expects that future budget requests for VORTEX–SE will include adequate budgetary resources for associated research and instrumentation. The Committee directs NSF to include a coordinated funding plan and timeline for conducting VORTEX–SE as part of future budget requests.

As part of VORTEX–SE, the Committee directs NSF to look beyond the traditional research disciplines and programs utilized in previous Vortex programs and to include and utilize the collaborative opportunities of the Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events program for co-funding grants that enhance understanding of the fundamental natural processes and hazards of tornadoes in the southeast and to improve models of these seasonal extreme events.”

Ice sheet instability

Senate: “Within Office of Polar Programs, the Committee encourages NSF to prioritize research into the current stability of Antarctic ice sheets, including the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and any impacts of future instability.”

Innovation Corps

House: “The recommendation includes no less than the fiscal year 2017 level for the NSF Innovation Corps program to support new and existing I-Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes.”

Senate: “The Committee provides no less than the fiscal year 2017 amount for the Innovation Corps [I–Corps] program to build on the successes of its innovative public-private partnership model. Technology transfer is an important contributor to American innovation, and NSF plays a critical role in enabling our Nation’s brightest academic minds to bring their ideas and ingenuity to the marketplace. Scientists are trained in discovery but need help turning their research into real-world products and profits. Programs like I–Corps create jobs in our laboratories today and jobs in American industries tomorrow. The Committee encourages NSF to facilitate greater participation in the program from academic institutions in States that have not previously received awards.”

Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)

House: “Within amounts provided, $170,690,000 is for EPSCoR.”

Senate: “The Committee underscores the importance of the EPSCoR program in spurring innovation and strengthening the research capabilities of institutions that are historically underserved by Federal research and development [R&D] funding. The EPSCoR program is funded at no less than $160,000,000, the same amount as fiscal year 2017. NSF shall make every effort to achieve efficiencies to ensure that no more than 5 percent of the amounts provided for the program are used for administration and other overhead costs.”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Senate: “The Committee continues to believe in the importance of additional Federal research opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs]. Because NSF’s primary research directorates continue to have a troubling track record of funding HBCUs, the Committee provides $10,000,000 for the competitive HBCUs Excellence in Research program, to be separate and distinct from awards made to HBCUs under grant opportunities made available to all colleges and universities, and separate and distinct from programs to support HBCUs under the Education and Human Resources directorate. The goal of this program is to provide opportunities for both public and private HBCUs, particularly for those who have not been successful in larger NSF R&RA competitions, in order to stimulate sustainable improvement in their research and development capacity. NSF is further encouraged to use research infrastructure improvement grants, co-funding programs, and other innovative mechanisms to achieve these goals. NSF shall provide a detailed outline of the proposed execution of the HBCUs Excellence in Research program as part of its fiscal year 2018 spending plan.”

Sustainable chemistry research

Senate: “The Committee continues to urge NSF to support sustainable chemistry, including developing a long-term vision for sustainable chemistry research and development, as authorized by Public Law 111–358, Section 509, and endorsed in Public Law 114–329, Section 114.”

 

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction

MREFC funding threshold / Major Research Instrumentation

House: “The Committee is supportive of recent actions to lower the MREFC threshold but encourages the National Science Board to consider further changes that would bridge the gap between the Major Research Instrumentation program and the MREFC account while also developing processes appropriate for mid-scale infrastructure, cyberinfrastructure, and instrument upgrades to be funded through the MREFC account. The Board shall, in collaboration with the National Academies, examine these requirements and report to the Committee within 180 days after enactment of this Act regarding its recommendations on how to address this matter within the confines of a restricted funding environment.”

Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope/Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

House: “The recommendation includes $57,800,000, the requested amount, for LSST. LSST, which was ranked as the top large ground-based astronomy project by the National Research Council 2010 Decadal Survey, will produce the deepest, widest-field sky image ever, and issue alerts for moving and transient objects within 60 seconds of discovery. NSF shall provide quarterly briefings to the Committee on the status of LSST, to include updates on resolution of issues identified by the NSF IG. The recommendation includes the requested amount of $20,000,000 for DKIST, which when complete will be the most powerful solar observatory. NSF shall provide quarterly briefings to the Committee on the status of DKIST, to include updates on resolution of issues identified by the NSF IG.”

Senate: “The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the requested level for the continued construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, as well as the requested funding for planning and construction of three regional class research vessels.”

Regional Class Research Vessels

Senate: “The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the requested level for the continued construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, as well as the requested funding for planning and construction of three regional class research vessels.”

Antarctic infrastructure modernization

House: “The recommendation fully funds the requested amount for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science program which follows recommendations for increased efficiencies included in the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel report, More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness.

 

Education and Human Resources Directorate

Scholarships and fellowships

Senate: “The Committee does not adopt the proposed funding reductions for the NSF Scholarships in STEM, Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, or the Graduate Research Fellowship and instead provides the fiscal year 2017 funding level for these programs.”

Hispanic Serving Institutions program

House: “Over the past several years, this Committee has encouraged NSF to create a program within EHR to focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Such a program was authorized by section 7033 of the America COMPETES Act (Public Law 110–69). The Committee reminds NSF that language was included in Public Law 115–31, the fiscal year 2017 appropriations Act, directing NSF to establish such an HSI program at no less than $15,000,000. The Committee provides the same level of funding for fiscal year 2018 and encourages NSF to use this program to build capacity at institutions of higher education that typically do not receive high levels of NSF funding. NSF shall provide a report on this program no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act that demonstrates such an investment no later than September 30, 2018.”

Senate: “Hispanic Americans continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering disciplines. The Committee provides $15,000,000 as authorized under 42 U.S.C. 1862o–12 for NSF to implement an HSI Program that is designed to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of Hispanic students pursuing associate or baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields.”

STEM-focused K–12 schools

House: “STEM-focused K–12 schools.—The Committee notes that prior National Research Council and National Science Board reports have encouraged education researchers and policymakers to give increased consideration to STEM-focused K–12 schools as an effective means of increasing STEM literacy. With those reports in mind, the Committee encourages NSF to work within its existing programs to promote opportunities for collaboration between universities or non-profit research institutions and STEM-focused schools serving K–12 students.”

Informal science education

Senate: “The Committee maintains its strong support for NSF’s informal science education program and provides no less than $62,500,000 for Advancing Informal STEM Learning and $51,880,000 for STEM∂C Partnerships. The Committee encourages NSF to coordinate and provide necessary support for investments in both in- and out-of-school time STEM education programs across Federal agencies, including support for extracurricular STEM programs. The Education and Human Resources directorate is further encouraged to continue its NSF-wide efforts to support informal STEM education programs, including leveraging the research directorates to support activities that match their respective content areas.”

 

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