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Shortly before Congress departed for August recess, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced an authorization bill to more than double the National Science Foundation budget over five years. This bill, S. 2817, is the Senate's answer to H.R. 4664, an NSF reauthorization bill that passed the House by a wide margin on June 5. (Authorization bills provide spending guidelines, but actual budgets are determined by annual appropriations bills.)
The House bill would reauthorize NSF for fiscal years 2003 to 2005, putting the foundation's budget on track to double in five years by calling for 15% increases in each of the years authorized. The Senate bill, known as the "National Science Foundation Doubling Act," is co-sponsored by Senators Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Christopher Bond (R-MO). The Senate bill would reauthorize NSF through FY 2007 and recommends annual increases of approximately 15.5% in each of these years, more than doubling the foundation's budget by FY 2007.
NSF's current budget is $4,789.2 million, with $3,598.6 million for Research and Related Activities (R&RA), and the Administration is seeking $5,036.0 million for FY 2003. The Senate bill would authorize $5,536.4 million for the foundation in FY 2003. By comparison, the House bill would authorize $5,515.3 million for FY 2003. By FY 2007, the authorization level in the Senate bill would increase to $9,839.3 million (with $7,559.1 million for R&RA), which would represent a 105.5% increase over current funding, not considering inflation.
The Senate and House bills contain nearly identical provisions addressing NSF's prioritization of proposed major research equipment and facilities construction. How prospective projects under this account are evaluated and prioritized for funding has been the subject of congressional concern and several hearings.
In general, the National Science Board approves a list of projects for inclusion in future NSF budget requests, but those projects are not ranked in any priority order. However, both reauthorization bills would require the NSF Director to develop, for the Board's approval, "a list indicating by number the relative priority for funding under the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account that the Director assigns to each project the Board has approved for inclusion in a future budget request."
The Director would be required to report annually to Congress on the latest Board-approved priority list, the criteria used to develop the list, and "a description of the major factors" that determined each project's ranking on the list.
Among other provisions, the Senate bill would require the Board to "explicitly approve any project to be funded out of the major research equipment and facilities construction account before any funds may be obligated from such account for such project." It also calls for the Director to conduct an assessment of the needs for major research instrumentation by field of science and engineering and by type of institution.
The full text of both bills (S. 2817 and H.R. 4664) can be found on the Library of Congress web site at http://thomas.loc.gov. -Audrey T. Leath
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