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Web Extra Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Without a budget, NSF loses

When fiscal year 2007 began last October, the National Science Foundation (NSF) was without a budget. More important, NSF was without the nearly 8 percent budget increase requested by President Bush the previous year. In fact, most of the government is without a budget, as Congress was unable to complete appropriations last year, leaving most federal agencies with fiscal uncertainty. For NSF and all those who rely on NSF grants, the situation could be troublesome.

Before adjourning last month, the 109th Congress passed a continuing resolution that maintains program budgets at the previous year's levels. The new Congress does not intend to pass a 2007 budget, and instead plans to run the federal government on a continuing resolution for all of fiscal year 2007, according to the new leaders of the House and Senate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Extending the continuing resolution for the full fiscal year, however, "will have devastating consequences for basic research in the earth sciences," says Maria Zuber, head of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

In 2006, President Bush requested a 7.9 percent increase in the NSF budget, a request supported by the full House and the Senate subcommittee appropriators. The proposed increase would have allowed the Geosciences Research Directorate to grow by about 6 percent. With that, NSF had planned to fund about 1,050 geoscience grant proposals in fiscal year 2007, amounting to 48 more grants than in fiscal year 2006. In addition, the agency says there would have been funding for research projects related to International Polar Year, which began this month (see Geotimes, January 2007), and other new developments such as the Alaska Region Research Vessel and the Ocean Observatories Initiative.

This much-anticipated increase in science funding, however, now appears unlikely to happen at all, with Congress likely to extend the continuing resolution. As a result, NSF stands to lose more than $400 million this year, and will be unable to fund about 600 new grant proposals — including about 50 new grants in the geosciences. Furthermore, current grants might get cut by as much as 20 percent, according to NSF Director Arden Bement.

"If the continuing resolution proceeds, new research grants will be significantly reduced, which will drastically impact the ability to support graduate students and post docs," Zuber says. "The decreasing support of NSF's research enterprise doesn't bode well for maintaining our national competitiveness."

Erin Gleeson
AGI Government Affairs Intern

Links:
National Science Foundation
AGI Government Affairs Department
"International Collaboration in Global Science: Price or Prize?" Geotimes, January 2007

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