NOAA Endures Stormy Politics, Emerges Mostly Intact
David Malakoff, 5:35 p.m. on 25 March
Dickering over the National Oceanoic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) 2013 budget caused plenty of sturm and drang over the past year. But the
final outcome has agency advocates feeling somewhat serene. "NOAA did well given the constraints of a very tough budget situation—not perfect, but it
could have been much, much worse," says Scott Rayder, a former top NOAA aide who is now a senior adviser at the University Corporation for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, Colorado.
The bottom line: Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, NOAA will have about $5.2 billion to spend in fiscal year 2013, some $300 million more than its 2012 total.
All of that increase, however, comes from a Sandy relief bill approved earlier this year that specifies how the agency must use the funds. The result is
that some of NOAA's research accounts will still feel pain from the automatic cuts known as the sequester.
The math can be hard to follow. Overall, Congress gave NOAA $5.1 billion in its final 2013 spending bill, matching the president's request. At first
glance, that total appears to be an increase. But the bill also requires a cut of nearly 2% to bring the agency's budget, in line with government-wide
spending limits, reducing the total to about $5 billion. The sequester—about a 5% cut—further reduces the total to about $4.74 billion, some $150
million below NOAA's 2012 total of $4.89 billion.
The Sandy relief bill finalized in February, however, added $476 million to NOAA's budget for a range of specific needs, such as repairing laboratories and
"hurricane hunter" aircraft and new weather radars and satellites. The add-on put NOAA back into the black for 2013, despite the sequester, and gives the
agency greater spending flexibility for some programs.
Other programs, however, will still feel pain. The largest, including its Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Marine Fisheries
Service, are likely to end up with flat or slightly reduced budgets. And at least one research-related program will cease to exist. Congress endorsed
a controversial plan to shut down NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
, a $4 million program that gives academic scientists access to research submersibles, and to fold it into the agency's broader ocean exploration program.
But lawmakers also directed NOAA to take a close look at the NURP's regional partnerships with universities and other groups. Those "producing the most
valuable scientific information," they agreed, should be allowed to compete for continuing funding. The agency will also have to tell Congress what it
plans to do with NURP's small fleet of piloted and automated undersea craft.
Lawmakers shelved another controversial proposal, which called for
transferring funding for a troubled, $11.9 billion weather satellite program from NOAA to NASA. But moving the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) to NASA "in the middle of a fiscal year could potentially result in further launch delays," lawmakers
stated in language attached to NOAA's final spending bill. Lawmakers should keep studying the issue, it added. At the same time, Congress gave NOAA a total
of nearly $2 billion to keep JPSS and other weather satellite programs on track to launch new spacecraft later this decade. NOAA is also supposed to use
some of the funding to figure out how to fill a 17- to 53-month-long gap in data provided by the satellites, which could begin as early as 2014.
Department of Energy's Science Programs Get Double Whammy
David Malakoff, 4:25 p.m. on 25 March
No news wasn't good news for the Department of Energy's (DOE's)
primary research division, the Office of Science. While Congress took
steps to ease the
sting for several science agencies of the automatic budget cuts
known as the sequester, it gave DOE's research programs a tiny budget
cut and no new
Overall, the continuing resolution provides the Office of Science
with $4.876 billion for the 2013 fiscal year, a $13 million reduction
from 2012 levels.
But the pain doesn't end there. The Office of Science will also lose
about $215 million a result of the automatic budget cuts known as the
according to DOE officials, bringing its 2013 total to $4.661
The cuts are expected to have "significant and potentially lasting
impacts" on DOE's research funding programs and sprawling complex of
accelerators, x-ray light sources, and other science facilities,
science office chief William Brinkman
told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on 5 March. The
impacts are expected to include
reductions in the number of grants, lengthy furloughs for employees
at DOE laboratories, and delays in upgrades to facilities. The spending
also complicate plans to launch any new projects, which are
generally blocked by the continuing resolution unless given specific
permission by Congress.
Homeland Security Science Rebounds
David Malakoff, 4:25 p.m.
on 21 March
If there's a comeback player of the year in the spending bill
approved today, it is research and development programs at the
Department of Homeland
In 2012, DHS's research, development, and innovation program took a
54% cut—from $459.6 million to $265.8 million—as a result of a largely
political battle over how to cover natural disaster relief funding
after an especially bad string of floods, storms, and droughts. Today's
restores funding nearly to 2011 levels (although the numbers below
do not reflect an additional 0.09% reduction that Congress applied to a
wide range of
programs, and DHS must still apply a 5% sequester cut to many of its
DHS's primary research account will rise to $450.6 million. That's
less than the $478 million requested by President Barack Obama in his
submission, but nearly $185 million higher than the 2012 level.
Overall, the DHS science and technology division will get $835
million, roughly even with 2011. Included in that total is $164.9
million for laboratories,
with $37.5 million set aside for the controversial National Bio and
Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a highly secure laboratory that DHS has
in Manhattan, Kansas. The White House had proposed no 2013 funding
for NBAF, which has been dogged by questions about its safety, cost, and
is now undergoing several reviews.
DHS's small university grants program, which primarily supports a
dozen centers devoted to specific research issues, also saw its budget
rebound to $40
million, up $3.5 million from 2012 and back to 2011 levels.
Smithsonian Takes Budget in Stride
Elizabeth Pennisi, 4:15 p.m.
on 21 March
Congress has given the Smithsonian Institution $4 million more to pay for the people and operating costs needed to run its 19 museums and galleries, a zoo,
and six research facilities such as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The extra money is
expected to help the agency staff an African American museum scheduled to open in 2015.
Salaries and expenses account for roughly three-fourths of its federal allocation, which was set at $815.5 million for the fiscal year ending on 30
September. But Smithsonian officials don't actually have that much to spend. Instead, they must find some $40 million in savings because of the
government-wide sequester that went into effect on 1 March. A hiring freeze, deferred maintenance, and reduction in outside contracts will help the
Smithsonian comply with the sequester. The belt-tightening also removes any money for major scientific instrumentation and reduces the budget for acquiring
new items for its collections. But the Smithsonian has no plans for furloughs or reducing the hours that its museums are open to the public, says
Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas.
The Smithsonian's request for FY 2013, contained in the president's budget submission more than a year ago, included $15 million to renovate a lab at the
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, $7 million for a STRI lab, and $4 million to expand collection storage space. At this time, it's "unknown how
much money we will have for those," St. Thomas says.
NSF Gets a Boost but Political Science Takes a Hit
Jeffrey Mervis, 3:25 p.m.
on 21 March
A powerful U.S. senator has eased the pain of sequestration at the
National Science Foundation (NSF). But she couldn't ward off an assault
legislators on NSF's political science research.
Using her influence as the new chair of the Senate Appropriations
Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) managed to restore nearly
half of the 5%
budget cut that NSF was set to receive under the government-wide
sequester. As part of the final spending bill for 2013 that Congress
approved today, NSF
will receive $6.83 billion. That figure represents a 2.9% cut from
NSF's current $7 billion budget.
NSF must still save $356 million to comply with the sequester. But
now it has a larger base from which to apply those cuts. The result is
likely to be many
fewer new grants lost than the 1000 that NSF had initially
projected, and even less impact on the early-career scientists, graduate
students, and postdocs
that NSF has said are a priority.
At the same time, an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) prevents
NSF from awarding any grants in political science unless the NSF
director can explain
how that research will "promot[e] national security or the economic
interests of the United States." NSF now spends roughly $10 million on
as part of its social and economic sciences portfolio.
How did Mikulski do it? The longest-serving female senator had
previously led the subpanel that controls the purse strings for NSF and
science agencies before she succeeded Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI),
who died in December, as chair of the full committee. Mikulski convinced
counterpart, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), to back her plan to
insert a detailed spending plan for the agencies covered by that
subpanel, and a few
others, in the final bill.
Pulling NSF out of the CR and giving it a regular appropriation
allowed Mikulski to increase spending for several NSF programs beyond
what they would have
received under the CR. For example, she set funding for NSF's
research account at what the agency had requested in the president's
2013 budget submission,
which was a 5.2% increase over 2012. Her figure of $5.98 billion is
even $50 million above an earlier Senate mark and $100 million above the
She also added $20 million to the president's request for NSF's
education directorate, to $896 million. Within that directorate, she
told NSF not to
proceed with plans to shrink its informal learning (museums and
other nonclassroom activities) program. And she added $5 million to
Education, which supports community and 2-year colleges, telling NSF
to find the money from other education activities.
Mikulski also protected funding for several large facilities now
under construction. NSF had already said that the National Ecological
and the Ocean Observatories Initiative were priorities. But because
of a budget technicality, the $196 million facilities account was
scheduled to take a
$35 million hit. The final bill language eliminates that glitch and
means that both projects will likely be able to stay on schedule.
Now that the dust has settled, NSF is assessing what Coburn's
amendment means for its support of political science. "NSF's charter is
to fund basic science
and engineering research across all disciplines, including research
that fosters understanding of human factors that can sustain our
illness, maintain a robust economy, curtail conflict and advance
democracy," said NSF's Judith Gan, head of legislative and public
affairs, in a statement
In a statement after yesterday's vote on his amendment, Coburn said:
"I'm pleased the Senate accepted an amendment that restricts funding to
political science grants." An earlier amendment from Coburn and
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) that was never put up for a vote would have
blocked all NSF
funding of political science research and shifted $7 million to the
National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. The
passed, by a nonrecorded voice vote, instead allows NSF to apply any
savings to "other scientific research and studies that do not duplicate
funded by other Federal agencies."
NIH Gets Little Relief
Jocelyn Kaiser, 2:30 p.m. on 21 March
Although the final 2013 spending bill included full-year spending
bills for some science agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
didn't get that
special treatment. Instead, being part of a continuing resolution
means flat funding at its 2012 level of about $31 billion.
The bill contains a small $67 million increase for the agency, but
this will do little to soften the blow of the $1.5 billion cut, or 5%,
that NIH is
receiving because of the across-the-board sequestration cuts that
went into effect on 1 March. "We have cut funding for biomedical
research with this
bill," says Jennifer Zeitzer, legislative relations director for the
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda,
NIH-funded investigators had already begun feeling the effects of
these impeding cuts. Institutes have been funding fewer grants than
normal and have cut
the approved budgets of ongoing, multi-year grants by 10%. The agency
said last month that it expected to restore only a portion of that cut, and
will fund hundreds fewer grants,
if sequestration went through.
"There's not going to be a sharp impact. It's more of a pernicious
effect because it's this erosion," says David Moore, senior director for
relations at the Association of American Medical Colleges in
Washington, D.C. NIH institutes, which will equally share the 5%
sequestration cut, are
expected to release their detailed plans for how to make cuts in the
next couple of weeks.
The bill also discusses the troubled National Children's Study
(NCS), which has spent $1
billion since 2000 on a pilot phase. The bill approves the $165
million that NIH requested for the study in 2013 but says that by 15
July the NIH director
should estimate how much the study actually needs and spread any
leftover funds among NIH's institutes and centers. It also tells NIH to
contract within 60
days with the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) to
have an expert panel review the study's methodology for recruiting
pregnant women. NIH
can't issue contracts for the full study until at least 60 days
after the IOM report comes out.
The IOM review will likely mean a year's delay in launching the full
study. But NCS investigator Nigel Paneth of Michigan State University
in East Lansing,
a long-time critic of NIH's management of the study, says if a
1-year pause "makes for a better study, it will have been worth it."
Correction, 22 March, 10:45 a.m.: The item has
been revised to reflect the fact that the $71 million increase received
by NIH will be reduced 5% by sequestration.
NASA's Planetary Programs Get a Lifeline
Bhattacharjee, 1:20 p.m. on 21 March
The administration's 2013 budget proposal for NASA
would have delivered a big blow to planetary science, but
the field appears to have been rescued by Congress. The final 2013
spending bill includes $1.42 billion for planetary science, a figure
that's a fair
bit healthier than the $1.19 billion the White House had proposed.
(That and other NASA numbers, however, also have to be reduced by a
0.09% reduction that
Congress applied to a wide range of programs. And NASA must still
apply the 5% sequester cut to all of its major accounts.)
The funding in the final bill restores a part of the cut that the
White House wanted to make to the Mars Exploration Program. The agency
will now have $450
million to spend on Mars exploration, about $90 million more than
what the administration wanted. That's still $137 million below the 2012
but it should allow the agency to proceed with the planning of a
Mars mission for later in the decade. Another winner is the outer
planets program, which
will get $159 million—about $37 million more than what it got in
2012. The administration had proposed shrinking it to $84 million.
The funding for other portfolios within NASA science will stay
roughly at the 2012 levels. That includes $628 million for the James
Webb Space Telescope,
$669 million for astrophysics, and $1.78 billion for earth science.
The total funding for science is $5.14 billion, a slight improvement
over the 2012
figure of $5.09 billion.
In all, the agency will have $17.86 billion to spend in FY 2013
before it applies the sequester. Its current budget is $17.77 billion.
This article was originally published at 11:55 a.m. on 21 March.