The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been spared a President Trump-proposed budget cut that would have rolled back its funding to 2012 levels. Congress passed legislation last month that sets the budget at $8.3 billion for fiscal year 2020, a 2.5 boost over the previous period. The allocation will fund a new mid-scale research infrastructure program and a significant upgrade to the Large Hadron Collider. Other areas of focus include quantum computing, artificial intelligence, microelectronics research and the on-going “10 Big Ideas” program.
The appropriation is almost at the level of the Senate’s request (a 3 percent increase) but falls short of the 7 percent increase that the House was seeking. It is, however, significantly above President Trump’s initial proposed budget of $7.1 billion.
The Science Policy News Service (supported by the American Institute of Physics) reported key details of the final approved budget. Here’s an excerpt:
LHC detector upgrades. The appropriation provides the $33 million NSF requested to begin its five year, $150 million contribution to upgrades for ATLAS and CMS detectors at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, which will prepare them for a corresponding high luminosity upgrade to the collider’s beams. The Department of Energy is providing $100 million to the detector and collider upgrades this year.
Continuing projects. The appropriation also meets NSF’s requested amounts of $46 million to continue construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile and $98 million for revitalizing infrastructure at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica.
Mid-scale research infrastructure. NSF requested $45 million through the MREFC account for a new agency-wide program dedicated to supporting “mid-scale” research infrastructure that costs between $20 million and $70 million. Congress is providing $65 million, and via Senate report language encourages NSF to award at least one project to an institution located in an EPSCoR state.
Outside of the MREFC account, NSF also requested $30 million for another new agency-wide program dedicated to funding mid-scale research infrastructure costing between $6 million and $20 million. The Senate report indicates it “fully funds” this program and again encourages NSF to make at least one award in an EPSCoR state. NSF issued the program’s first 10 awards in September.
Infrastructure planning. The House committee encourages NSF to produce a “comprehensive and prioritized list of large-scale facilities requested by NSF-supported science disciplines,” stating it is “concerned” about the agency’s planning for the next generation of facilities, “including ground-based telescopes.” The Senate committee includes analogous language specific to high-performance computing infrastructure, stating it is concerned NSF’s investments in this area “fall short of scientific and engineering needs.”
The NSF indicated the 2020 budget would support approximately 8,000 new research grants and would continue NSF’s “commitment to basic research that contributes to human knowledge and provides the scientific understanding necessary to spur innovation across all fields of S&E.”
The original request also laid out the following targets:
• Funds NSF investments in the S&E foundations for quantum information science ($106 million).
• Invests in transformative research in artificial intelligence ($492 million).
• Provides funds to enhance understanding and application of microelectronics and semiconductors ($68 million).
• Supports investments in students and a future-focused workforce by funding CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service ($55 million) and Advanced Technological Education ($75 million) and other education and workforce programs.
NSF leadership will change hands this year. Last month, President Donald J. Trump selected Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan to serve as the 15th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Panchanathan is to succeed Dr. France Córdova when her six-year term as NSF director ends in 2020.
The 2020 U.S. fiscal year runs from October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020.