The National Science Foundation (NSF) is due to receive a surprising 2.5% increase in its 2012 budget. That good news came from a conference report filed last night for three spending bills, expected to be approved by Congress before the end of the week.
The new $7.03 billion budget for NSF would represent a $173 million hike over current, 2011 levels. It's an unexpected turn of events for the agency. Earlier this fall, the Senate passed a spending bill that would have cut NSF's budget by $161 million, and a House of Representatives spending panel this summer embraced a flat budget.
Science lobbyists are hailing the vote of confidence in basic research from Congress and applauding the efforts of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chair the relevant appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively. NSF officials declined to comment pending final passage of the bill.
Under the legislation, NSF's research account would grow by nearly 3%, to $5.7 billion, while its education directorate would shrink by almost 4%, to $829 million. The conferees added $50 million to the $117 million now available to build large new facilities and gave NSF the authority to transfer an additional $50 million to the facilities account from its research portfolio. Doing so would boost the account to nearly the level NSF requested in the president's 2012 budget. For the first time in its history, NSF would also have the authority to transfer into any account up to 15% of its appropriation.
Within the education directorate, legislators held steady NSF's Noyce scholarship program—designed for undergraduates planning to become science teachers—after NSF had requested a $10 million cut in the $55 million program. They also protected from any cuts the long-running program to help have-not research states, called EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research).