On 13 July 2011, the House Appropriations Committee approved a measure that would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $6.85 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012. This is the same amount the agency received in FY 2011, but roughly $900 million less than President Obama requested.

Despite the flat funding for NSF as a whole, Research and Related Activities would receive an additional $43 million. This increase would come at the expense of Education and Human Resources ($26 million decrease) and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction ($17 million decrease). Funding for Agency Operations and Award Management would be unchanged from FY 2011. The smaller budget for construction could jeopardize NSF’s plans to fund construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network and the Ocean Observatories Initiative.

The proposed funding level may be a disappointment to some, but others in the scientific community feel grateful that NSF was not subjected to deeper cuts. Funding for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and for related agencies would decline by 3 percent below FY 2008, under the House proposal. “Despite a 6 percent lower allocation than in fiscal year 2011, this bill increases funding for research accounts at [National Institute of Standards and Technology] and NSF,” said subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). “Investments in scientific research are critical to long-term economic growth and job creation.”

Other science programs did not fare as well. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $4.5 billion, about $50 million less than FY 2011 and $1 billion less than President Obama requested. The reductions could cause delays in the acquisition of the Joint Polar Satellite System, which will provide next-generation weather and climate data. Despite reducing funding for many of NOAA’s research and monitoring programs, the Committee directed “NOAA to continue to increase extramural research funding in future requests to build broad community support and leverage external funding for mission-oriented research.” Additionally, the Committee denied the agency’s proposal to reorganization its climate research programs to create a Climate Service. The Committee report makes clear that no funds included in the bill can be used to create a Climate Service.

The budget for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would be cut by more than half. The reductions may be due to an ongoing dispute between OSTP and Congress over bilateral scientific engagement with China. Appropriators directed OSTP to prioritize its remaining funds towards efforts to coordinate and improve government programs designed to increase interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

The House of Representatives could debate the legislation in the next few weeks. The Senate has yet to act on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Activities FY 2012 appropriations.


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