House Spending Panel Flatlines NSF, Squeezes New Facilities

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive no increase in 2012 under a spending plan unveiled today by the U.S. House of Representatives' panel that funds several science agencies.

The House commerce, justice, and science appropriations subcommittee will vote tomorrow on a $50 billion spending bill that would eliminate the entire $900-million increase that President Barack Obama has requested for NSF for 2012. Erasing that 13% boost would leave the agency's budget at its current level of $6.86 billion, which was $65 million below its 2010 spending level. It would also derail the doubling of NSF's annual budget over 10 years, a pledge first made by President George W. Bush and reiterated by Obama.

The House panel would actually add $43 million to the $5.56 billion NSF currently devotes to its six research directorates; in comparison, the president had requested a $690-million boost. But the panel proposes to reduce money for the foundation's education programs; its budget would shrink to $835 million rather than growing to $911 million under the president's proposal.

The biggest hit on the president's request would be levied on the account to fund major new facilities, which would receive only $100 million instead of the president's request for $225 million. That lesser amount wouldn't even cover the $102 million sought to continue building up the Ocean Observatories Initiative. The agency's request for $87 million to begin construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network would also be severely squeezed under the House figure.

The panel is expected to approve the spending bill tomorrow, and further details may be available when the bill goes to the full committee next week. The Senate could begin marking up a companion spending bill this month, but a final bill depends upon the outcome of negotiations between Congress and the White House on raising the debt ceiling and reducing the overall federal budget.

Posted in Funding Budget 2012