Senate Appropriators OK 3 Percent Increase in NSF Budget

UPDATE: On Thursday the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved the 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which among other things funds the National Science Foundation.

The bill’s next step is a vote by the full Senate. A date for that has not been set, and the resulting bill must still be reconciled with the House of Representatives version. The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution which only funds it until November 21.

The U.S. Senate subcommittee that oversees funding for the National Science Foundation, and with that most of the federal money spent on basic social and behavioral science research, today approved a 2020 budget that increases NSF spending by $242 million compared to the current fiscal year. Of great interest to researchers, an additional $249 million — the total increase plus $7 million –is dedicated specifically to research grants.

All told, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act allocates $8.317 billion to NSF. And while that is above the current year allocation, it also less than the $8.64 billion provided for NSF in the House of Representatives’ version of the 2020 bill. Both versions ignore the request from the Trump administration, which requested $7.066 billion for NSF, a 10 percent cut for the agency compared to this year’s spending.

While the proposed increase of 3 percent exceeds the rate inflation, it falls behind increases recommended for other science or statistical agencies. NASA, for instance, is up for a 5.8 percent hike, while the National Institute for Standards and Technology would get 5.4 percent.

Even before the competing House and Senate bills are reconciled, the Senate bill will see two more votes, one by the entire Senate Appropriations Committee and then one by the entire Senate. The bill is scheduled to be considered Thursday by the full committee. Historically the bill emerging from the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, or CJS, rarely sees substantive changes on its path to the Senate floor.

That said, the full $70.833 billion funding bill to support law enforcement, economic initiatives, scientific research, space exploration, and other disparate programs contains many portals for tinkering. That amount is $6.715 billion above the FY2019 enacted level.

One area outside of NSF that many social scientists have scrutinized is funding for the 2020 decennial census. The bill provides $7.558 billion for the Bureau of the Census ($3.7 billion above this year’s enacted level), with $6.696 billion of that earmarked for the decennial census itself. A recent bipartisan agreement on the whole federal budget called for $2.5 billion additional to be spent on the census. 

The Consortium of Social Science Associations has analyzed the bill (see PDF here) and included information on the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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