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Funding for physical science research fared relatively well in the big federal omnibus-spending bill passed by the U.S. Congress on December 14.
December 15, 2014 | Michael Lucibella
Budgets for NSF and for NASA's science division received modest boosts, while the Department of Energy's fusion program avoided the significant cuts threatened by the White House and Senate. In addition, NIST and the Department of Energy's office of science budget remained at roughly the same levels as last year.
The spending bill, officially known as the "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015" authorizes more than $1 trillion of spending for the federal government for most of the federal government through the end of September.
The NSF, despite an ongoing politically charged probe by the House Science Committee into "questionable" grants, received $7.3 billion, a 2.4 percent increase of $172 million over last year's allotment and $89 million above the president's budget request. It's a huge increase compared with the flat funding of most of the other federal agencies. Of that increase, $125 million will go directly to its six grant-funding directorates. The bill makes no mention of how the NSF should divide that money, effectively sidestepping threats earlier this year to defund its behavioral, social, and economics directorate.
NASA also received a 2 percent increase over last year's amounts. The Office of Science is getting $5.2 billion, an increase of $93 million over last year and a $179 million increase over the president's original budget request. Space exploration was also a big winner, getting a $243 million boost over last year to support its new manned exploration efforts.
NIST received $864 million for the next year, an additional $14 million or 1.6 percent increase over last year's budget.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is budgeted for $5.1 billion, the same amount as last year. Significantly, this includes funding for both domestic fusion research programs as well as continued support for ITER, the large international Tokomak being built in France. In the president's April budget request, rising ITER contributions would have eaten into the domestic fusion budget, reducing overall spending on U.S. research by about 6 percent compared to the previously reduced 2013 levels. However the new bill eliminates the additional reduction, keeping ITER contributions to $150 million a year with the requirement that the organization makes significant management changes to address its significant delays and cost overruns. The domestic fusion program is budgeted for $317 million.