President Trump is requesting an 11 percent funding decrease for the National Science Foundation in fiscal year 2018, which would bring its budget to $6.7 billion. Research directorate leaders were provided flexibility in determining how to distribute the cuts, leading to a range of proposals.
In his first budget request to Congress, President Trump is seeking an 11 percent decrease for the National Science Foundation below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The $6.7 billion proposal is the first indication of the Trump administration’s plans for the agency, as it was not directly mentioned in the blueprint the administration released in late March. The administration is also seeking steep cuts for most other science agencies as part of a broader reduction in non-defense spending.
The chart below depicts the major changes the president is proposing for NSF. Budget information for additional accounts is available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker and the full NSF budget document is available here.
Research & Related Activities
The bulk of the $819 million cut to NSF would fall on the Research and Related Activities account, which would decrease 11 percent below fiscal year 2017 levels to $5.4 billion. The cut is distributed in each research directorate and division in different proportions between research grants, facilities operations, and education programs.
During the NSF budget overview briefing on May 23, NSF Director France Córdova emphasized that “tough choices” had to be made while preparing the request, saying,
This request protects NSF’s core values as an agency, including cross-directorate participation. … We’ve carefully looked at all our programs and taken the approach to reset some of our investments closer to the levels you would have seen in NSF’s budget a decade ago.
Some of the crosscutting programs across the foundation would receive major cuts, including several interagency initiatives. For example, the Understanding the Brain program, which houses NSF’s contribution to the BRAIN Initiative, would decrease by over 20 percent and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) would be cut by nearly 40 percent. The Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water program would be cut by 70 percent below the fiscal year 2016 level. The Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program would receive a 13 percent decrease in support, but would still be expected to maintain its number of teams and sites and expand to 10 nodes in 2018.
Several major facilities supported by Mathematics and Physical Sciences Directorate would receive increased levels of support for operations and maintenance, including the Gemini Observatory, Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), and Large Hadron Collider (LHC), while the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) would receive its fiscal year 2016 level of support. Other facilities, such as the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), would ramp down, largely in line with existing plans, though the schedule for shutting down CHESS would accelerate by one year. Funding for the Arecibo Observatory would decrease by 13 percent to just under $8 million. NSF is currently soliciting proposals for operations of the facility over a five year period during which NSF would ramp down its support to $2 million per year. A $1.3 million decrease below fiscal year 2016 levels proposed for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory would be offset by an anticipated increase in Department of Energy support for NOAO’s Mayall Telescope as the “preferred platform” to carry out a dark energy science survey with the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), currently under construction at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Within the Geosciences Directorate, support for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) would fall $16 million below fiscal year 2016 levels, and the Ocean Observatories Initiative would see a 24 percent reduction. Within the Office of Polar Programs, $285 million is proposed for Polar Facilities and Logistics, which supports U.S. research infrastructure in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as enabling partnering federal science agencies research in the polar regions. Funding would prioritize the implementation of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) project at McMurdo Station as well as the continued development of plans to upgrade satellite communications systems and replace the Palmer Station pier.
Major Research and Facilities Construction
The request would continue support for the construction of two major telescopes — the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) — as well as the first of three new regional class research vessels. A $26 million decrease in the Major Research and Facilities Construction account aligns with the foundation’s plans for these projects.
Education & Human Resources
Funding for Education and Human Resources would be cut by 14 percent to $761 million, necessitating a shift toward partnerships with other research directorates to fund educational programs. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) and NSF Research Traineeship (NRT), both supported by the research directorates as well, would receive decreases of more than 25 percent, and the GRFP would halve the number of new participants to 1,000. The STEM + Computing (STEM+C) Partnerships program would receive a $20 million or 38 percent reduction.
Some programs that promote inclusion in STEM education would see cuts, including the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation and Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. However, the INCLUDES program, one of NSF’s 10 “big ideas,” would see a slight increase.