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<< Back to May 2003 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the May 2003 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 15/No. 3, pp. 1, 8.]

Congress Finishes FY2003 Funding, Sets to Work on FY2004

By Peter Harsha

House and Senate appropriators reached agreement in late February on a final FY 2003 appropriations package that provides significant increases in science funding at the National Science Foundation for the current fiscal year, but not quite as generous as the levels originally approved by the respective committees last fall. The long-awaited agreement came nearly five months after the official start of the 2003 fiscal year on October 1, 2002. In the interim, federal agencies had been unable to start new programs or expend new funding.

House and Senate leaders reached agreement with the Administration on a final overall spending number for the 11 unfinished annual appropriations bills (the Defense and Military Construction appropriations bills were passed last fall) and rolled them all into one large bill. The resulting 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill includes significant increases in science funding overall, as well as some specific increases in computing research for FY 2003.

Among the biggest winners in the appropriations process for FY 2003 was NSF, whose Research and Related Activities account received a 13.5 percent increase, including a 13.1 percent increase in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. Under the agreement, funding for CISE in FY 2003 increases to $582 million.

Though overall funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science will decrease in FY 2003 by $48.3 million to $3.26 billion (-1.5 percent over FY 2002), computing research in the office fared much better. Concerned about recent developments by Japan in scientific supercomputing, Congress increased funding to the Advanced Computing Research program at DOE to $167.4 million in FY 2003, an increase of 11.5 percent or $17.2 million over FY 2002.

In most cases, funding levels in the omnibus bill represented a slight reduction from the levels approved by both House and Senate appropriations committees when they considered each of the 11 appropriations bills individually. In order to get under spending limits set by the White House, the House and Senate leadership decided on across-the-board cuts to all approved levels in the bills. As a result, funding for NSF CISE, for which Senate appropriators had approved a 15.8 percent increase, will receive "only" a 13.1 percent increase for FY 2003.

Shortly after Congress finished work on the FY 2003 appropriations bills, debate began on the FY 2004 budget with a marked change in tone. The President's budget request (discussed in the March 2003 CRN, vol. 15, no. 2) contained only modest increases in research and development funding overall. The House Budget Committee followed by producing a budget resolution heavily influenced by the understanding that the final cost of the war in Iraq was likely to be significant, but is currently unknown. The "Fiscal Year 2004 Wartime Budget Resolution" drafted and approved by the committee actually calls for a cut in federal science funding of $300 million in FY 2004.

Tracking the effect of the cut is complicated by the way the resolution is structured. The budget sets funding levels for a variety of broadly categorized budget "functions" of the federal government. For FY 2004, the budget resolution calls for spending $22.8 billion in "General Science, Space, and Technology"--budget function 250--an account that includes funding for NSF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and DOE's Office of Science. In the committee report that accompanied the resolution, the Committee explains that it arrived at $22.8 billion ($300 million less than the FY 2003 approved level) by assuming, among other things, a growth rate of just 3.8 percent for NSF in FY 2004.

A number of members of Congress spoke out against this cut to general science funding in hearings that preceded the Committee's action on the resolution. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, opposed the cut by pointing out that "science forms the foundation" for each of the budget committee's priorities for the budget: funding the ongoing war on terrorism, contemplating a potential war with Iraq, facilitating economic stimulus, and maintaining fiscal responsibility while preserving domestic spending responsibilities. Ehlers also cited NITRD as an example of a program that through "[p]roductivity improvement and technological breakthroughs [has] spurred the longest period of economic expansion in our nation's history, and holds the key for stimulating our economy now."

The House Science Committee, in its "Views and Estimates" of the President's budget request, also endorsed more significant levels of support for research and development funding. Twenty-five members of the committee signed the "V&Es," which adopt a tone similar to the Ehlers testimony, noting "science and technology are the keystones of our economic prosperity and national security." The committee was especially disappointed in the budget document for failing to provide NSF with the significant increases in funding authorized by the NSF Doubling Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by the President last December. The Act authorized an increase of 15 percent for NSF in FY 2004, significantly more than the 3.8 percent the budget resolution assumes.

Despite the support, the House budget resolution was approved by the committee as written, including the $300 million reduction to function 250. The full House approved the measure in late March. At press time, the Senate was considering its own budget resolution containing a $500 million increase to the function 250 account over FY 2003. Though the budget resolution is in some respects a symbolic document--especially if both chambers fail to agree on funding levels--it does play a role is setting the funding allocations that the appropriations committees will work within during the appropriations process later this year. If the chambers disagree on funding levels and fail to produce a joint budget resolution, as happened last year, the appropriations process can become more complicated, with both House and Senate appropriators working from different funding baseline numbers. These differences will have to be worked out in negotiations between the chambers before any final appropriations bill can be passed.

The next step in the budget process is the beginning of the work of the appropriations committees in taking testimony concerning the 13 annual appropriations bills that are necessary to fund government activities for FY 2004. By June, the first draft bills should be under consideration by the committees, and should provide a clearer view of the prospects for science funding in the coming year.

CRA government affairs activities are posted at: /govaffairs.


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