Looking Ahead: NSF Reauthorization Bill

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Publication date: 
6 April 2015

Before Congress went on its recess there was much debate on the House and Senate floors about an FY 2016 budget blueprint that will guide overall appropriations, tax and other revenue legislation.  Both chambers passed their own versions of a budget resolution.  Upon their return the House and Senate will work on a compromise.  With great concern about the return of automatic mandatory sequestration cuts in FY 2016 it is expected that efforts will be made later this year to strike another budget agreement like that forged in December 2013 increasing spending caps in FY 2014 and FY 2015. 

One step in this process is the formal submittal of a document known as the “Views and Estimates” by committees to the House Budget Committee.  House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) submitted his committee’s report earlier this year.   The eighteen-page document was signed by all of the committee’s Republican members.  No Democratic members signed this document, issuing instead a two-page statement.  

Of note in the Republican document, starting on page 5 is a section on the National Science Foundation.  At the end of an introductory paragraph providing general background on the NSF is the sentence: “The Science Committee is currently drafting legislation to reauthorize NSF for FY 2016 and FY 2017.”

Page 6 of this document provides insight into the approach that the Republican members of the committee may take in this forthcoming legislation.  The document explains “The Science Committee will recommend specific Research directorate funding levels within NSF’s Research and Related Activities account in 2016.”  The document comments on the Math and Physical Sciences; Engineering; Social, Behavioral, and Economic, and several other directorates.

The following is taken from page 6 of this document, following a review of the committee’s action last year to reauthorize the foundation (the last legislation expired in FY 2013):

“The Committee recognizes the importance of making appropriate investments in science and technology basic research and STEM education in order that America remain a world leader in scientific and technical innovation that spurs our economy.

“The Committee remains concerned, however, that the Administration is diverting scarce NSF basic research funds to priorities that are better left to other federal agencies with more expertise and likely are duplicative of other efforts. For example, NSF proposes to spend $377 million for clean energy research and $81 million for the Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program. NSF's proposed contribution to the interagency US Global Change Research Program - with $2.7 billion requested in various agencies - is $341 million in FY 2016, a more than 50% increase since 2008. Further, the NSF budget request for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) is more than $291 million in FY 2016, which represents an increase of 13.5% and 7.1%, respectively, over the FY 2014 and FY 2015 amounts. This increase is disproportionately larger than other research fields with a high return on investment, including the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Engineering (ENG), Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), and Biology (BIO) Directorates. The Committee is concerned that the Administration has lost sight of the NSF's core mission to support the physical sciences that lead to technological innovations and economic benefits. Several recent studies conducted using the NSF's SBE funding have been of very questionable value for an agency devoted to spur innovation and American competitiveness. Scientific endeavors in areas that have demonstrated return on investment for the American taxpayer deserve priority.

“The Science Committee will recommend specific Research directorate funding levels within NSF's Research and Related Activities account In FY 2016. In FY 15, upon the Committee's recommendation, the entire $126 million increase in the NSF Research appropriation above the request was applied to the following four priority directorates: MPS (+$41 million); ENG (+$34 million); CISE (+$28 million); and BIO (+$23 million). These priority physical science research areas will continue.

“The Committee also recommends that in prioritizing NSF Research, the remaining NSF accounts should be appropriately rebalanced and allocated.”