An artist’s conception of a new regional class research vessel.
Oregon State University

Trump cuts to NSF mostly rejected by House panel, but it nixes new ships

A House of Representatives spending panel wants to spare the National Science Foundation (NSF) from most of the 11% cut that was proposed by President Donald Trump for its 2018 budget. But it would do so in part by eliminating funding for three mid-sized research vessels that Congress last year told NSF to start building.

A panel led by Representative John Culberson (R–TX) will vote tomorrow on a 2018 spending bill that covers NSF and several other science agencies. A draft of that legislation, released today, sets NSF’s next budget at $7.338 billion, some $134 million below its current level but $685 million above the president’s request.

The House mark holds NSF’s six research accounts level, at $6.033 billion. NSF’s education directorate would also tread water, at $880 million. The biggest variation from 2017 would come in its major research facilities account, which funds new construction.

NSF has requested $183 million for that account. Some $78 million would go to continue work on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. The rest of the money would be used to start building the first two of the three ships.

NSF had proposed building two ships, but Senate appropriators last year convinced their colleagues to add a third ship and gave NSF an additional $53 million in 2017 to get started. Culberson’s panel has never liked that project, however. Last year it voted to eliminate funding for them, and this year’s mark reiterates that stance.

The good news is that the House bill effectively takes that $105 million cut and applies it to NSF’s research programs. The bad news is that Senate appropriators will likely restore the money in their version of NSF’s budget. When they do, the result could be that much less for NSF’s six research directorates.