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New research ship highlight of otherwise flat NSF budget bill in Senate

U.S. senators want the National Science Foundation to build three, not just two, of the regional research vessels depicted in this schematic.

Oregon State University

New research ship highlight of otherwise flat NSF budget bill in Senate

Senate appropriators have made a third research vessel their top priority in the 2017 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The full Senate appropriations committee today unanimously approved $7.509 billion for NSF, a $46 million boost over its current budget, as part of a $56 billion bill covering several science agencies and the departments of justice and commerce. Within the amount for NSF, legislators added $53 million to the agency’s large new facilities account to begin building three regional-class research vessels rather than the two NSF had requested. (Earlier this week, a spending subcommittee had approved the bill, but released few details.)

NSF’s research and education accounts were held flat, at $6.033 billion and $880 million, respectively, as was the agency’s internal operating budget. President Barack Obama had requested $46 million more for research and $18 million for education. (NSF had also requested an additional $43 million to accommodate its move next year to a new building in northern Virginia.)

Legislators also rejected the president’s request for a one-time infusion of $400 million for NSF from so-called mandatory revenue sources, money outside the province of the annual appropriations process. But they said they were not retreating from support of basic science. “This bill puts money in the federal checkbook for research and development, because innovation today leads to American jobs and products tomorrow,” noted the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD).

A former chair of the committee, Mikulski is retiring this fall after 30 years in the Senate and a decade in the House of Representatives, and she received a warm tribute from her colleagues before the bill was approved. The House has yet to act on a comparable spending bill.