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FY 2012 House Funding Bill: National Science Foundation

Richard M. Jones
Number 89 - July 15, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On Wednesday the full House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill, and sent it to the House floor. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House before the start of the August recess.

The committee report accompanying the bill has a 4 ½ page section of the committee’s recommendations for the National Science Foundation, which can be found starting on page 82.  There was no language regarding the foundation as a whole.  Excerpts regarding specific directorates and activities are below:

Total NSF:

The FY 2011 appropriation was $6,859.9 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $7,767.0 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $6,859.9 million – level funding

Research and Related Activities:

The FY 2011 appropriation was $5,563.9 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $6,253.5 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $5,607.0 million, an increase of 0.8 percent or $43.1 million

The report states:

Research priorities. - The National Science Foundation (NSF) can maximize the amount of money available in fiscal year 2012 for new activities by carrying out the various reduction and termination proposals contained in the R&RA budget request. The funds made available through these reductions and terminations, together with the increase provided by the Committee, will allow NSF to expand or enhance its activities across a range of research areas with significant impacts on national security or economic competitiveness. The Committee directs NSF to prioritize these new activities towards cybersecurity and cyberinfrastructure improvements; advanced manufacturing (as further discussed below); materials research; and disciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the natural and physical sciences, math and engineering.

Advanced manufacturing. - The Committee encourages NSF’s planned activities related to the Advanced Manufacturing initiative.  Future economic prosperity in the United States will depend largely on our ability to develop and manufacture new products based on advanced technologies, both for the domestic market and for export. Basic research supported through the NSF and other Federal science agencies is critical to this effort because it will help provide the foundation for the development of such new products and technologies by the private sector.

Neuroscience. - The Committee believes there is a potential in the near future for significant, transformative advances in our fundamental understanding of learning, brain development, and brain health and recovery. Such advances will require enhanced tools to better understand the working of the brain, enhanced data and data infrastructure, and expanded interdisciplinary and large-scale research efforts. . . . “

Innovation inducement awards. - Funds provided under this heading may be used for innovation inducement prizes, as authorized by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–358). The Committee encourages NSF to make use of this mechanism, particularly in programs that specifically emphasize innovation, to focus on high risk/high reward research projects and to incentivize private sector involvement. . . . “

Protecting scientific intellectual property. - Government policy on the dissemination of scientific research data has trended consistently toward increased public access. This has numerous benefits and advantages, but also raises concerns about: (1) researchers’ ability to effectively retain their intellectual property rights for potentially lucrative findings; and (2) the government’s ability to protect scientific intellectual property that has significant economic or security implications. NSF is directed to report to the Committee on proactive steps that can be taken by the government and within the scientific research community to better balance the imperatives of public access and protection of data. This report shall be provided no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act.

Wireless Innovation Fund. - NSF’s request included $150,000,000 of mandatory funding for research on access to the radio spectrum, wireless testbeds and cyber-physical systems. This funding is dependent on legislation being enacted to authorize incentive auctions that would reallocate Federal agency and commercial spectrum bands over the next ten years.”

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction

The FY 2011 appropriation was $117.1 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $224.7 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $100.0 million, a decrease of 14.6 percent or $17.1 million

The report states:

"Project funding profiles. - NSF should promptly review its current portfolio of MREFC projects and their outyear funding profiles to ensure they are consistent with the fiscal year 2011 and 2012 appropriations. . . . “

Project contingency funding. - Project managers have responded to NSF’s ‘no cost overrun’ policy for major construction and equipment acquisition projects by increasing the amount of contingency funding carried in their budget proposals. The Committee encourages NSF to strengthen the oversight of these contingencies, particularly in terms of incentivizing grantees to bring their projects in under budget and return unused contingency funding. NSF shall report to the Committee on the steps it is taking to impose tighter controls on the drawdown, use and return of contingency funds for projects managed through the MREFC appropriation and for other large facility projects. This report should be submitted no later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.”

Education and Human Resources

The FY 2011 appropriation was $861.0 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $911.2 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $835.0 million, a decrease of 3.0 percent or $26.0 million

The report states:

Program changes. - NSF has proposed a number of program reductions or terminations within EHR. For the most part, these cuts were proposed not due to any dissatisfaction with the programs in question but rather because NSF would prefer to implement new initiatives. The Committee has no objection to this approach, with the exception of the proposed reductions to the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program and the Math and Science Partnership program. The Committee does not believe that those cuts are warranted solely to make room for new activities.

“After accounting for the approved reductions and terminations, the recommended funding level will support the continuation of the fiscal year 2011 level for all other EHR programs, including Advanced Technological Education and the pre-existing elements of the Broadening Participation at the Core program, as well as approximately $40,000,000 of new or expanded activities as proposed in the budget request.

Best practices in K–12 STEM education. - At NSF’s request, the NRC has recently completed a multiday workshop on best practices in K–12 STEM education. The results of this workshop, along with commissioned research and other sources, have been synthesized into an NRC report, Successful K–12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, that discusses best practices and provides a series of recommendations aimed at education policymakers and practitioners.  Consistent with the current dissemination plan, NSF shall ensure that this report is widely distributed within the education and scientific communities.

“In addition, NSF is directed to begin work to identify methods for tracking and evaluating the implementation of the improvements identified in the NRC’s report. These methods may include, but are not limited to, expansion and alignment of existing databases on student outcomes and school and classroom conditions, and the development of measures that more broadly capture desired student outcomes in STEM. NSF and its collaborators should provide an evaluation plan within 12 months of the enactment of this Act that describes these methods and recommends the necessary steps that should be taken by NSF and other Federal agencies to implement that plan. Within the amounts available in this account, up to $500,000 should be used for the formulation of the evaluation plan.

Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) eligibility. – The Committee is concerned that potentially meritorious GRFP applications are being screened out prior to substantive review based solely on the academic field of the applicant. Without examining the details of an application, NSF has no way of knowing whether the application and academic work in question are focused on areas of basic research within NSF’s mission. Therefore, the Committee urges NSF to ensure that the review of GRFP applications is based solely on the merits of the proposed research and not on categorical distinctions that may not accurately capture the qualifications of
an individual proposal.

Hispanic Serving Institutions. - Over the past several years, NSF and the Congress have discussed the concept of creating a program within Broadening Participation at the Core to focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). NSF is directed to provide to the Committee a report outlining how the needs of HSIs will be addressed in fiscal year 2012 and any plans to establish an HSI-focused program in fiscal year 2013.

Duplication of effort. - The Committee encourages NSF to continue cooperating with ongoing reviews by GAO and OSTP to identify and minimize duplication of effort with other Federal agencies on STEM education.”

The committee report had fairly extensive language in a section starting on page 84 regarding Agency Operations and Award Management, with recommendations pertaining to contracting, acquisitions management, travel expenses, program evaluation and analysis, and questioned/unsupported costs.   There was a single sentence devoted to the Office of the National Science Board (for which funding is maintained at the current level), and language on the Office of Inspector General.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics