Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

National Science Foundation Testifies on FY 2020 Budget Before House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee – On March 26, Dr. France Cordova testified before the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee on NSF’s FY 2020 budget request.  In his opening statement, Chairman Serrano said, “[The] proposed levels of funding endanger the core missions at NSF.  For example, if the requested amount is enacted into law, the number of competitive awards for FY 2020 would go down from 11,600 awards in 2018 to 10,400.  In a given year, NSF awards grants to over 1,800 colleges, universities, and other public and private institutions in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Cutting funding for NSF will inevitably leave many schools without this much-needed education and research funding.”

Dr. Cordova summarized the NSF budget for FY 2020 which is about $1 billion or 12% below the level appropriated for FY 2019.  The NSF Director discussed NSF’s priorities with respect to its proposed “Big Ideas” and the convergence research activities that support the Big Ideas.  The tone of follow up discussions with the Members of the Subcommittee – from both sides of the aisle -- was supportive of NSF.  Many Members pursued a line of questioning designed to highlight the need for increased investment in NSF research and education beyond the budget requested by NSF.  Recognizing the constraints coming from the White House with respect to overall nondefense discretionary spending, Members pressed Dr. Cordova on NSF’s needs.  As Dr. Cordova defended the NSF budget she also reminded the Members that typically, NSF is unable to fund approximately $4 billion a year of worthy research and education proposals due to resource constraints.  She thanked the Subcommittee on several occasions for its generosity to NSF with respect to FY 2019.  Topics discussed during the hearing included:  international competition, particularly with China and their level of investment in science and technology; artificial intelligence, including the societal implications of this emerging technology; advanced manufacturing; mid-scale infrastructure; STEM education; and programs to support those not well represented in science and engineering. 

Questions were also raised regarding the status and plans for continued funding for the Antarctic modernization project and other large-scale facility investments. Dr. Cordova was pressed at one point on the process by which NSF makes funding decisions during the development of the budget among and between the various disciplines or directorates.  Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) was interested in whether it was NSF that made the internal distributional funding decisions or did it come from elsewhere in the Administration.  Dr. Cordova explained that within NSF these decisions are difficult ones made by NSF using input that comes from multiple sources – the Congress, the science and engineering community, advisory committees, and Administration priorities.

More information on the NSF hearing, along with an archived video of the hearing, can be found here. Detailed information on the NSF budget proposal for FY 2020 can be found here.

Acting NOAA Administrator Testifies on FY 2020 Budget Before House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee – On March 27, Dr. Neil Jacobs, the Acting NOAA Administrator appeared before the same subcommittee Dr. Cordova went before on March 26 to defend NOAA’s FY 2020 budget proposal.  NOAA’s FY 2020 budget includes a reduction of nearly $1 billion below the FY 2019 enacted level.  Key priorities for the Administration as laid out by Dr. Jacobs for NOAA include: reducing impacts from extreme weather and water events by improved weather forecasting; maximizing the economic contributions of ocean and coastal resources (“the blue economy”); and advancing space innovation.  Dr. Jacobs went on to call for support for aquaculture (while the budget proposes to eliminate the entire $12 million marine aquaculture research program in Sea Grant) and enforcing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. The Acting Administrator said NOAA planned to accelerate work on the U.S. global weather modeling program, calling it a top priority for the Administration and NOAA.

To fund these priorities, as well absorb a $1 billion reduction from the FY 2019 enacted level, NOAA’s budget proposes the elimination of such programs as the National Sea Grant College Program, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Service and their competitive funding for extramural research on ecological threats; Title IX Coastal Resiliency Grants and Coastal Zone Management Grants; Elimination of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System program; the Prescott (Marine Mammal Stranding) Program; Competitive Climate Research; the Vortex-Southeast Research effort; and Antarctic and Arctic Research.  Significant reductions are proposed for such programs as the Tsunami warning system; the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) program; Coral Reef Restoration; Support for Marine Sanctuaries; Aquaculture; the National Catch Share Program; Reef Fish Stock Assessments; Weather and Air Chemistry Research Labs and Cooperative Institutes; Ocean Exploration; Ocean Acidification; the virtual termination of NOAA’s Education programs; and a reduction in the National Weather Service workforce of nearly 250 positions.

The Chairman and most of the other Members of the Subcommittee were clearly skeptical of the budget reductions being proposed.  Many of these proposed reductions and terminations have been proposed in prior years and have been rejected soundly in the past. 

More information on the NOAA hearing, including an archived video of the hearing, can be found here.  Detailed information on the NOAA budget will be available here as soon as NOAA releases its “blue book” and its detailed Congressional Justifications.  For the time being, a summary of the NOAA budget as contained in the Department of Commerce Budget-in-Brief can be found here.