National Science Foundation Budget Comes Into Focus

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Publication date: 
16 June 1995
Number: 
83

Although it will be months before President Clinton signs into law
the National Science Foundation appropriation for FY 1996, an
important step in this process occurred earlier this week.  House
Basic Research Subcommittee Chairman Steven Schiff (R-NM) and his
colleagues marked up an NSF authorization bill for FY 1996 and
1997.  The bottom line: NSF's budget is capped at $3,126.00 million
for FY 1996 and $3,171.40 million for the following year.  NSF's
current year budget is $3,263.65 million; the administration
requested $3,360.00 million for FY 1996.

The "main event" gets underway next week when the House VA, HUD,
and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meets to mark
up their bill.  Now scheduled for June 22, with full committee
action on July 11, this bill will contain the first set of firm
numbers on NSF's FY 1996 budget.  But make no mistake, in this
Congress, budget-making is moving in a more orderly process, and
authorizing legislation is taking on considerable importance.  As
he predicted, the numbers in the House Budget Resolution are being
used by House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) to
set budget ceilings for his subcommittees to use as they write
their bills.  If initial indications are correct, the
appropriations subcommittees are using the authorizing bills to
guide their appropriations (see FYIs #79 and 80.)  While neither
the budget resolution or authorizing bills are "final," the House
Science Committee leadership is treating them as if they are.  So
while the figures in H.R. 1852, the "National Science Foundation
Authorization Act of 1995" are not final, they are likely to be in
the ballpark.  Here are the FY 1996 authorization levels, or the
upper limits on what the VA, HUD appropriators are supposed to
provide for selected NSF activities:

Over-all NSF FY 1996 Authorization: $3,126.00 million.  Current
budget: $3,263.65 million.  Administration FY 1996 request:
$3,360.00 million. 

Research and Related Activities (R&RA) FY 1996 Authorization:
$2,226.30 million.  Current budget: $2,280.00 million.
Administration FY 1996 request: $2,454.00 million.

Mathematical and Physical Sciences FY 1996 Authorization (a
component of the R&RA budget funding physics, astronomy, and
materials research): $632.20 million.  Current budget: $644.57
million.  Administration FY 1996 request: $698.28 million.

Geosciences FY 1996 Authorization (a component of the R&RA budget):
$408.80 million.  Current budget: $419.49 million.  Administration
FY 1996 request: $451.48 million.

Education and Human Resources FY 1996 Authorization (separate from
R&RA, as are all budgets below): $600.00 million.  Current budget:
$614.03 million.  Administration request: $599.00 million.

Major Research Equipment FY 1996 Authorization (which in FY 1996
consists solely of funding for LIGO): $70.00 million.  Current
budget: $126.00 million.  Administration FY 1996 request: $70.00
million.

Academic Research Facilities Modernization Program FY 1996
Authorization: $100.00 million.  Current budget: $118.13 million.
Administration FY 1996 request: $100.00 million.

The subcommittee mark up of this NSF bill was smoother than that
last week for the Department of Energy R&D authorization bill, a
reflection perhaps of the different styles of the chairmen.
Chairman Schiff began by saying that "NSF is a well-run agency,
with a well-defined mission.  While I will conduct oversight of its
operations, I do not want to make substantial reforms at this
time." 

Schiff's sentiments were reflected in the bill that was before the
subcommittee.  It stated, "the primary mission of the Foundation
continues to be the support of basic scientific research and
science education and the support of research fundamental to the
engineering process and engineering education; and the Foundation's
efforts to contribute to the economic competitiveness of the United
States should be in accord with that primary mission."  Language
later in the bill calls for an annual report which will define
"over-all goals for the Foundation and specific goals for each
major activity of the Foundation...."  The report should "describe
how the identified goals relate to national needs and will exploit
new opportunities in science and technology."

The Ranking Democratic Member of the subcommittee, Pete Geren
(D-TX) said "the chairman has made the best of a difficult
situation; and, although the bill before us represents a decrease
in funding for NSF, it is a fair allocation that provides
relatively gentle treatment for NSF in a year in which many federal
science and technology programs authorized by the committee have
experienced, or are facing the prospect of, severe cuts."  Geren
and Rep. George Brown (D-CA) commented favorably on the bipartisan
spirit in the subcommittee.

Five amendments were considered.  The first made a technical change
to the bill's anti-lobbying provision, which states that no funds
authorized by this act are to be used for lobbying.  Rep. Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) offered an amendment to strengthen the link between
research and education at universities.  The subcommittee agreed by
voice vote to Boehlert's requirement that the NSF director provide
a plan to implement the following requirement: "The impact that a
grant or cooperative agreement by the NSF would have on
undergraduate and graduate education at an institution of higher
education shall be a factor in any decision whether to award such
grant or agreement to that institution."  Boehlert promised to
revisit this issue in two years if he is not satisfied with the
results of this open-ended amendment.

The subcommittee also agreed to language that permits increasing
the NSF authorization if future budgetary circumstances permit.  It
voted down (15 no - 8 yes) an amendment to immediately increase
authorization levels, in large measure because the higher levels
would breach the figures in the House Budget Resolution.  And, in
an informal show of hands, subcommittee members declined to rename
NSF as the National Science and Engineering Foundation. 

On June 22, the full House Science Committee will mark up this NSF
bill (H.R. 1852), and one of the NIST bills.  On June 20, it will
mark up H.R. 1816, the DOE Civilian R&D Authorization Act and H.R.
1601, the International Space Station Authorization Act.  

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