Zero is starting to look like a pretty nice number to some U.S. scientists.
Yesterday, a congressional spending subcommittee proposed holding next year's budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) at its current level of $6.86 billion, in other words, zero increase. But instead of gnashing their teeth over the panel's failure to back President Barack Obama's request for a $907-million increase (13%), science lobbyists say they're thrilled that legislators had "spared" NSF from the cuts made to other agencies in the $50-billion bill that funds NASA and science programs within the Department of Commerce as well as other federal agencies. And some are even heaping praise on the chair of the House of Representatives commerce, justice, and science appropriations subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), for embracing the importance of research in growing the U.S. economy.
"The overall number is pretty good. In fact, this may be the best appropriation we can expect for NSF," says Amy Scott, a policy analyst for the non-profit Association of American Universities. "Given the current budget situation, people appreciate Mr. Wolf's decision to hold NSF steady at 2011 levels."
Howard Silver, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, is even more effusive. "We're delighted with the [subcommittee] markup … and that NSF was one of the few agencies that did not suffer cuts."
Wolf says that he would have liked to do more for NSF but that his hands were tied by his allocation, the spending ceiling set by the Republican-controlled House that applies to all the programs under the committee's jurisdiction. This year's ceiling of $50.2 billion is 6% ($3.1 billion) below current, 2011 spending levels, and the overall budgets for the Commerce and Justice departments were reduced by close to that amount. Still, he's proud of what he did accomplish.