News of the Week

Senate Squeezes NSF's Budget

Science  01 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5731, pp. 31a
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5731.31a

It's crunch time for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Last week, a Senate spending panel voted less money for the agency than even the president's stingy request. It delivered bleak news to backers of a proposed high-energy physics experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. And, in a last-minute reversal, the panel restricted the agency's ability to strike the best deal on the icebreaking services needed to ferry scientists into the polar regions.

These developments are part of NSF's budget for the 2006 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. In February, the White House had requested a 2.5% budget boost, to $5.6 billion, and on 16 June the House of Representatives approved an increase of 3.1%. But the Senate panel voted a mere 1% bump. The two bills must be reconciled later this summer. “We live in hope that we'll end up better than we are now. But we know it's a tough year,” says NSF Director Arden Bement.

The Senate panel did single out a few programs for special attention, including adding $6 million to the $94 million plant genome program and a similar amount for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research to bolster 25 research-poor states. It also pumped up the $47 million operating budget of the National Radio Astronomy Observatories by $4 million.

Tough sailing.

How to find and pay for icebreaking services is one of many problems facing NSF in 2006.


The Senate took a harder line than did the House on NSF's $841 million education directorate, which the president had proposed cutting by $104 million. The House added back $70 million, while the Senate panel restored only $10 million. Of that, $4 million would go to a 4-year-old program linking universities and local school districts to improve student achievement that the president and the House want to shift to the Department of Education. It's seen as a marker for the Senate to lobby for retention of NSF's program.

The Senate panel took a whack at the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) project, a high-energy physics experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory that would look for effects beyond the Standard Model. Citing cost estimates far beyond an initial $158 million projection, the panel withheld not only the $42 million requested in 2006 for construction but also another $14 million given to RSVP planners but not yet spent. The appropriators also told NSF that any revised version of the project would have to go back to square one in a lengthy approval process.

Finally, the senators sided with the U.S. Coast Guard in ongoing negotiations over who should crunch the pack ice blocking entry to NSF's logistics headquarters in Antarctica, saying NSF “shall procure icebreaking services from the Coast Guard.” That goes against a House preference for NSF to have “the most cost-effective means of obtaining icebreaking services.” It also rewrote an earlier version of its accompanying report that ordered the Coast Guard to pay for necessary repairs to its two polar-class icebreakers, replacing it with language calling for a “joint” resolution of the issue.

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