Congress Gives NSF a 6.7% Raise--and Sends Obama a Warning

Congress is poised to give the National Science Foundation a 6.7% increase in 2010, boosting its budget to $6.926 billion. It's also told President Barack Obama to do better next year.

The 2010 total for the fiscal year that began on 1 October is actually much less than what NSF received in 2009. But that's because 2009 was such an unusual year: NSF's regular $6.5 billion appropriation was augmented by a one-time $3 billion windfall from the stimulus package. Although researchers can spend that stimulus money over as long as 5 years, most of it has already been allocated.

In negotiations (pdf) over the 2010 budget that were made public yesterday, conferees generally split the difference between House of Representatives and Senate versions of the NSF budget, which is part of the larger Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. Along the way, they lowered the Administration's request for research by $115 million, to $5.62 billion, and raised the president's request for education programs by $15 million, to $873 million. They said the extra education money should be used to help elementary school students learn math and science. And they suggested that NSF seek additional time for U.S. astronomers on the twin Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.

Although appropriations bills cover only a single fiscal year, the conferees also tried to shape the president's 2011 request for NSF. And here's where things get complicated: Although the Administration's request remains under wraps, White House budget officials are reportedly sticking to a projection released earlier this year that pegs NSF's 2011 budget at $7.25 billion. That would be a 2.9% increase over the 2010 request.

But the conferees said it should be bigger, in line with the Administration's promise to double NSF's budget over 10 years. It suggested an increase of "at least 7%." That would mean a 2011 budget of $7.41 billion.

>One twist: If the White House holds to its 2011 projection, the president's requested increase for NSF in 2011 would actually be 4.7%. That's because NSF is getting $119 million less than the president sought for 2010.

Confused? Don't worry. Once Congress passes NSF's 2010 budget, you'll have a year to sort things out for 2011.