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Senate Committee Passes Funding Increases for NSF, NIST

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate Committee on Appropriations late last week voted to provide a small funding increase to the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology next year, in spite of the extremely tight fiscal situation the federal government faces.

The committee approved a $240 million increase in funding for NSF to $7.3 billion, or five percent more than it received this fiscal year. That funding total at NSF is less than the $7.4 billion marked for the agency in the White House's 2012 budget, which called for an increase of 5 percent over the 2012 level but also proposed finding savings by reducing administrative costs and eliminating some research programs that have not shown an impact or are not a good fit with NSF's priorities.

For NIST, the committee approved a budget of $826 million for 2013, an increase of $75 million over 2012, or an increase of around 10 percent over this year. The funding for NIST would include an increase of $56 million for NIST's laboratories and technical research, as well as $128.5 million for its Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs and $14.5 million for the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program.

For those concerned about potential cuts in federal science funding, the overwhelming vote of 28 to 1 supporting these small increases may provide cause for relief. Discretionary spending could be slashed across the board next year by nearly 8 percent under the authority of the Budget Control Act, which was created last year to force the hand of the ill-fated Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach a bipartisan deal to cut the federal deficit.

As GenomeWeb Daily News Reported last month, the Budget Control Act requires across-the-board cuts to all non-defense discretionary federal spending and would include slashing the National Institutes of Health's budget 7.8 percent.

The favorable vote in the Appropriations committee does not mean that NSF and NIST will definitely receive this funding amount if the BCA's sequestration plan kicks in, but it does suggest that there is strong bipartisan support on this powerful committee for maintaining science funding, even in the face of such deep cuts.

An 8 percent cut to the budgets of NSF and NIST would likely have negative effect on their grant-making abilities, if the numbers suggested by NIH Director Francis Collins for how sequestration would hit his agency can be used as a comparable yardstick.

Collins last month told the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services that not only would a sequester of 7.8 percent slash about $2.4 billion from NIH's budget, but it would kick in three months into the fiscal year, leaving little time for the agency to adjust. Such a cut would mean NIH would fund 2,300 fewer grants in FY 2013, he said.

"That represents almost a quarter of our new and competing grants," he told the subcommittee. "That would result in success rates of our applicants who come in with new applications or competing ones falling to historically low levels. It would be devastating to investigators seeking to continue programs that they have had funded in the past and are back for their competing renewal, or who are starting things that are entirely new."