NSF Funding in Limbo For Now

October 30, 2018

With enthusiasm from many corners, Congress passed and the President signed a massive spending bill funding the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health, and Education a couple of days before FY 2019 would begin. Although agencies funded under the bill fared well, agencies such as the National Science Foundation have not received a budget for the current fiscal year.

NSF and other agencies continue their FY 2018 funding under a short-term continuing resolution  (CR) that was also included in the spending bill, H.R. 6157. The CR expires on December 7th, so Congress will need to complete additional spending bills, or a new CR, once the election is behind us and Congress returns to Washington, DC. Getting a spending bill passed is important for numerous reasons. First, agencies cannot make final spending decisions for the year without a budget. Agencies usually cannot launch new programs either. In addition, getting a FY 2019 budget is especially important the behavioral and social sciences. In FY 2018, the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate was cut by 9.1%. Holding constant the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within SBE, two divisions – the Behavioral Cognitive Sciences Division as well as the Social Economic Sciences Division – were each cut by over $10 million. Although Congress did not cut any research Directorate at NSF, the Administration had the final say in the funding breakdown across the six research Directorates (excluding Education and Human Resources).

In FY 2019, assuming a bill to fund NSF passes, the outlook should be better. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and reported favorably the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill that includes $8.1 billion for NSF ($301 million above the enacted FY 2018 level) and $6.6 billion for the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) line (which funds the six research directorates), a 3.5% increase over enacted FY 2018 levels. Importantly, the report language accompanying the Senate bill directs NSF to “maintain its core research at levels not less than those provided in fiscal year 2017.” Although House Appropriators did not include similar language, the Committee provided funding for NSF and the R&RA line at even higher levels than the Senate, $8.2 billion and 6.7 billion, respectively.