Funding for NSF Advances in House, but Faces Challenge

September 21st, 2017

On September 14th, the U.S. House passed a package of eight spending bills, including one that would fund the National Science Foundation for FY 2018. The NSF is funded through the Commerce, Justice, Science bill, a bill that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on July 13th and included in the “octobus” bill that later passed the House.

The House CJS bill that was reported out of Committee provided $7.3 billion for NSF in FY 2018, an amount that is $133 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. However, the NSF “Research and Related Activities (R&RA)” account, which funds all research directorates except Education and Human Resources, is funded at the current level of $6 billion. No damaging language relating to the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Research Directorate was included in the CJS bill or accompanying report language. But success at one stage of the process is not enough.

As the Appropriations package of bills reached the House floor, over 200 amendments were offered, including one by Congressman Lamar Smith that would decrease funding in the NSF research account and then increase it by the same amount. The amendment, which passed on voice vote, has no impact on the NSF research account. However, it provided an opportunity for Congressman Smith, Chairman of the House Science Committee, to share his interest in raising funding for the physical and biological sciences. In the coming months, as Congress tries to move closer to a budget deal and conferencing bills, science advocates will work to ensure that the spirit of the amendment (i.e., to move funding from some research directorates to others) will not be reflected in the final bill or conference report.

The Senate, for its part, is unlikely to consider the House-approved bill, but it is uncertain at this time when the Senate may bring its own version of the CJS bill to the Senate floor, alone or packaged with other bills. On July 27, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the CJS Appropriations Act, but unlike the House, approved a reduction of $116 million to NSF R&RA account. Like the House Appropriations Committee bill, there was no damaging SBE language in the bill or accompanying report.

Final funding levels for NSF will likely be determined after House and Senate leaders and the President agree on overall fiscal year 2018 funding levels for discretionary spending.