Seven weeks into a new fiscal year (FY), Congress finally reached a compromise on the FY 2012 spending plans for several federal departments and agencies. The package of three appropriations bills, which was signed into law by President Obama on Friday, includes a budget increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Other science agencies did not fare as well.
NSF will receive $7.0 billion, a 2.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2011. Notably, this is more than either the Senate or the House of Representatives had previously agreed to in their respective spending plans. The Research and Related Activities account, which funds the Directorate for Biological Sciences and other scientific disciplines, will receive an increase of $155 million. The Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction account at NSF will receive $167 million, a $50 million increase. This is short, however, of the agency’s requested funding level, which could impact construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NSF does have the option to transfer up to $50 million from the research account to the equipment account in order to fully fund construction projects. The budget for the Education and Human Resources account will be cut by $32 million (3.7 percent). This reduction includes the termination of the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education program.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive an increase of $305.6 million. All of the increase will go toward the acquisition of climate and weather satellites. Oceanic and fisheries programs will also be cut to further fund the satellite program. Notably, the legislation does not provide any funding for NOAA to establish a National Climate Service. The agency’s proposal to reorganize its climate change-related programs into one office in order to better provide data and forecasts continues to be blocked by House Republicans.
Within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Agricultural Research Service — USDA’s intramural research program — will have $38.6 million less to spend this year. Additionally, Congress backed the Obama Administration’s request to close 12 research facilities. Despite a $12.5 million cut to the budget of the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will be flat-funded at the $264.5. The initiative is a competitively awarded, extramural research program that supports research on plant and animal health and production, food safety and nutrition, renewable energy, and the environment.
A legal dispute between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and a leading House appropriator has resulted in a substantial budget cut for OSTP. The office will lose nearly a third of its budget this year. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) sought the budget reduction as a way to teach OSTP a lesson after its director met with Chinese officials earlier this year. Rep. Wolf asserts that the meeting violated a provision of the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that prevented OSTP from spending money to collaborate with China.
The conference report also includes a Continuing Resolution that will fund all other federal programs at the same level as in FY 2011 through 16 December 2011. This will buy time for legislators to finish work on the nine remaining appropriations bills that collectively fund the federal government.
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