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<< Back to September 2004 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the September 2004 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 16/No. 4]

House Panel Votes to Cut NSF, NASA Budgets for FY 05

By Peter Harsha

A House Appropriations subcommittee approved significant cuts in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in July, making good on a warning issued earlier this year that science funding was going to be “challenging” given the budget constraints placed on the committee by the Administration and Congressional leadership.

The cuts were included in the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies appropriations bill—one of thirteen appropriations bills Congress must pass each year to fund the operations of government.

The bill calls for a $74 million cut to NSF’s research account in FY 2005, a decrease of 1.7 percent from the FY 2004 appropriations and $194 million less than the President requested for the agency in February. NASA would see a $229 million decrease for FY 2005 compared with FY 2004, $1.1 billion below the President’s request.

The panel achieves the bulk of the $74 million reduction to NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account by halting three programs the agency planned to start in FY 2005: the Workforce for the 21st Century program ($20 million in requested funding), a proposed new class of Science and Technology Centers ($30 million), and a newly proposed “Innovation Fund” ($5 million). The remaining $18.7 million would have to come from existing programs in R&RA.

Under the legislation, overall funding for NSF would decline 2 percent—$110 million—to $5.47 billion in FY 2005. R&RA would fall to $4.15 billion for FY 2005 from $4.89 billion in FY 2004.

The committee also included language in the legislative report accompanying the bill, urging continued research to “further the productivity growth in the information economy.” The committee noted concerns that “researchers are reaching the physical limits of current complementary metal oxide semiconductor process technology,” and that this will have significant implications for continued productivity growth.

But the committee also declined to specify appropriations amounts for each of the agency’s research directorates as it has done in the past, instead taking NSF to task for failing to provide the committee with a budget justification with sufficient detail to make those decisions. The appropriations require NSF to submit a detailed plan addressing the agency’s “highest priority research requirements,” the report noted. “In developing this plan, the Foundation is urged to be sensitive to maintaining the proper balance between the goal of stimulating interdisciplinary research and the need to maintain robust single-issue research in the core disciplines.”

The NASA reductions are also gained at the expense of several new program starts for FY 2005, including $230 million from “Project Prometheus”—a part of the Jupiter Icy Moon Orbital mission—and $438 million in delaying the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The bill would fully fund the President’s requests for Space Shuttle operations ($4.3 billion) and the President’s mission to Mars program ($691 million) in FY 2005.

Though the House Appropriations subcommittee has approved the bill, it is uncertain when the bill will eventually receive the consideration of the full House. Because Congress failed to pass a joint Congressional Budget Resolution this year, the spending caps imposed on the appropriations committee by the Congressional leadership do not have the force of law. Without the budget resolution as a cap, each appropriations bill that comes to the floor is open to amendments that could potentially add new spending, forcing Members of Congress to vote up or down on each proposed increase—a situation the leadership hopes to avoid during this election year. As a result, it is likely that the VA-HUD bill will not receive consideration until a “lame duck” session of Congress after the November election, when it will be bundled with any other outstanding appropriations bills into one “omnibus” bill.

It is also not clear how the Senate will handle its version of the VA-HUD appropriations bill. One scenario floated by appropriations staffers would have the Senate Appropriations Committee declare Veterans’ Affairs funding in the VA-HUD bill “emergency funding,” given the current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such a move would remove the VA funding from the budget cap calculation, but would face resistance from deficit-minded members from both parties. It is also not clear that the Senate would use any of the freed-up funds to support increases at the science agencies, perhaps preferring to increase housing benefits through the Housing and Urban Development section of the bill.

Finally, to complicate the prognosis further, in an unusual step for the current Administration, the President has notified the House leadership that he is unhappy with the funding levels in the bill, specifically the insufficient amounts appropriated to NASA, and will veto it if passed in its current form. Congressman Tom Delay (R-TX)—an influential member of the House majority leadership who, as a result of redistricting, now represents NASA’s Houston Space Center—is also opposed to the bill in its current form.

The concerns over NASA funding expressed by the President and Delay should also concern computing researchers, though for a different reason. If a compromise is reached to find additional funding for NASA in the bill, for jurisdictional reasons it will likely come from funding for other agencies within the bill. Rather than reduce funding for Veterans Affairs or low-income housing—both politically sensitive programs—it is quite possible that appropriators could look to the other science agencies in the bill to make up NASA’s shortfall. NSF could see its budget decline even further in order to bump up funding for NASA.

CRA continues to monitor the appropriations process. For all the latest details, check the CRA Government Affairs web page at For commentary on the latest developments, be sure to check CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog at


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