UPDATE: Senate Request for NSF 2 Percent Below Current Year


Jeanne Shaheen
Jeanne Shaheen

Update:  The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday called for spending $7.3 billion on the National Science Foundation in the coming fiscal year, mirroring the allocation approved by a subcommittee earlier in the week. The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, or CJS, allocates $56.4 billion for those agencies, and does not deviate from what the CJS subcommittee approved.

This was not for want of trying, however. The ranking member of the CJS subcommittee, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, introduced an amendment which would have increased the CJS budget by $6.5 billion. That increase, which would have kicked in only if there is a bipartisan budget agreement, was defeated on a 15-16 vote. Among its proposed increases was $3.37 billion to create new jobs through increased support for science, technology, engineering and math training/workforce programs and scientific research and $538 million to increase funding for NSF and to keep NASA at FY17 funding levels.

The CJS bill now moves to the full Senate floor.

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The U.S. Senate subcommittee which creates legislation to fund the National Science Foundation on Tuesday passed a bill which includes $7.3 billion for NSF. While the amount set aside by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies is $161 million less than what the current fiscal year budget allocates, it’s still well above what the Trump administration requested.

The subcommittee’s bill goes before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

NSF funding is part of the much larger Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, or CJS, which allocated $56.4 billion for agencies ranging from the Department of Commerce (which includes the Bureau of the Census and National Institute of Standards and Technology), the Department of Justice, and various standalone science agencies like NSF, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A similar bill has already been passed in the House of Representatives, and eventually both version must be reconciled and a single bill approved by both chambers for the president to sign into law. The House version calls for a $7.4 billion NSF budget.

The increased funding for NSF – which pays for a majority of university-based social science research in the United States — represents one of the largest differences between the president’s proposed budget and the legislated version. The total CJS bill, while $3.2 billion below this fiscal year’s enacted level, is still $4.4 billion above the administration’s budget request – and the NSF increase is $658 million of that $4.4 billion. “The committee,” said its Republican chair, Richard Shelby of Alabama, “has made difficult but responsible decisions to craft a bill that stays within our spending boundaries.”

The CJS bill passed without discussion in Tuesday’s 10-minute markup session, and on a bipartisan vote. Nonetheless, the ranking Democratic member of the committee, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, bemoaned the cuts to NSF.

“I am disappointed we couldn’t keep funding for the National Science Foundation at the FY17 level. The bill cuts NSF research and education by 2 percent, far lower than the 11 percent proposed by the administration, but still this will mean 456 fewer grants, cutting support for nearly 5,000 researchers, students, teachers and technicians who are making innovative discoveries and training the [science, technology and mathematics] workforce of the future.”

She added that “the cut to NSF in the budget does not reflect a lack of support for science, I want to make that clear, but it’s a reality of our restrained budget caps, and is another signal that we need a new budget deal to address the destructive cuts due to sequestration.”

While NSF is a clear concern for social scientists, many eyes have also focused on the Bureau of the Census, which generates reams of data used for research. The CJS bill proposes $1.5 billion for the Census, which is $51 million above the current fiscal year and $24 million above the Trump request. While that is higher, outside observers are concerned that the ramp-up is insufficient to pay for a successful, and constitutionally mandated, 2020 Census, especially given the technological advancements that need to be in place before the count begins. Republicans, meanwhile, remain concerned that the Census is spending too much. “Strict oversight and fiscal responsibility are essential for Commerce’s success in fiscal year 2018,” Shelby said, “which is why the bill directs the Census Bureau to continue its efforts to make the costs of the 2020 Census lower than that of the 2010 Census.”


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