Although it’s purely aspirational at best, the Biden administration is seeking an 18.6 percent increase in the budget for the National Science Foundation, the United States’ largest funder of academic social science research. The administration’s $11.3 billion request for NSF is part of its larger – much larger at $6.8 trillion – annual budget request to Congress. The NSF increase comes on the heels of a 12 percent increase that actually passed Congress for the current fiscal year.
Today’s request, which is the opening promenade in the annual federal budgeting dance, comes even as the U.S. government grapples with addressing its existing debt obligations. The proposed spending – which as Politico noted, “has no chance of passing Congress” – remains important because it signals the goals and larger interests of the president.
However, the actual budget will be drawn up in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, as the U.S. Constitution requires. And as such, and especially during these particularly partisan times, the goals of the Democratic president will certainly take a back seat.
While spending on science and innovation may not seem particularly political, Republican spending on the NSF has historically come in at less than Democratic plans. Plus, spending specifically on the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate has been the subject of bombast and cheese-paring over the years even as legislators have praised spending on STEM. SBE is the smallest of the foundation’s eight directorates.
The just-released Biden plan does not specify how it would allocate that budget request at the directorate level. But in the 2022 fiscal year the amount actually allocated to SBE in the 2022 fiscal year was $286 million (while the president had asked for $319 million). That enacted 12 percent increase this year puts SBE’s budget at around $320 million (the president had asked for $330 million).
The budget dance’s next number will take place in the House, and for NSF specifically, will originate in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Since control of the House shifted from the Democrats to the Republicans in the 2022 elections, Oklahoma congressman Frank Lucas, the former ranking member of the then-minority party, now heads the committee.
“The Science Committee has a history of bipartisan work, and my hope is that we will continue to have a productive and collaborative relationship with our colleagues across the aisle. I’m looking forward to working with Ranking Member [Zoe] Lofgren [Democrat of New York] on our shared priorities,” Lucas was quoted when he took over the committee in January. That said, he promised that the committee “will also conduct critical oversight on the billions and billions of dollars the Democratic-led Congress and Administration have poured into our agencies over the last two years, to hold them accountable and ensure taxpayer dollars are protected from waste, fraud, and abuse.”
More details on the president’s 2024 budget request are expected to arrive on Monday.