Science Policy & Funding News

NSF Geosciences Budget Would Rise 4.7% in White House Request

President Barack Obama's budget request calls for a healthy boost for the National Science Foundation's geosciences directorate.

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The $7.7 billion budget that U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year (FY) 2016 would boost the geosciences by 4.7% while providing a 5.2% increase of $379 million over FY 2015 to the agency as a whole.

The budget request to Congress, which the White House announced on 2 February, would fund NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) with $1.365 billion in FY 2016, a 4.7% increase above the $1.304 billion FY 2015 estimated budget level. This increase would apply across all divisions within GEO.

In addition, the directorate would be the biggest player in two of NSF’s major investment priorities for FY 2016 that reach across the agency. The Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) project would be funded at $75 million, with GEO investing $14.8 million. A Risk and Resilience initiative to address resilience in response to natural and man-made disasters would receive $58 million agency-wide, with GEO tagged for $23.5 million through its Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events (PREEVENTS) program. The need for efforts in both of these areas is highlighted in GEO’s recently published strategic planning report, Dynamic Earth: Geo Imperatives and Frontiers 2015–2020.

Increases from FY 2015

The funding request for GEO would be an improvement from FY 2015. The FY 2015 appropriations act provided NSF with a 2.4% increase overall above the FY 2014 funding level, but language included in a House of Representatives report related to the FY 2015 omnibus appropriations act that became law on 16 December 2014 held funding for GEO flat at the FY 2014 level.

NSF officials were disappointed that the FY 2015 language did not include GEO among the directorates that would receive increases and that Congress had made directorate-specific allocations. For the FY2016 budget, foundation officials are hoping that Congress does not insert directorate-specific language.

At a 2 February budget briefing, NSF Director France Córdova said that the administration made clear its priorities in the FY 2016 budget request and that “GEO figures very prominently.”

In responding to a question from Eos about what measures NSF would take to try to convince Congress to more fully fund GEO, Córdova said, “We will continue to make our case for the geosciences. But the whole community has to say what the value is of all the different things that the geosciences [do], from studying the oceans to studying the Arctic and Antarctic regions, to studying land uses and damages done by natural and manmade hazards and how to be resilient. There is a big menu of things, but each one of them is deserving of a special case being made to Congress.”

GEO Director Roger Wakimoto said the proposed 4.7% increase for FY 2016 is above the requested percentage increase of 4.3% for NSF research and related activities. He said the increase for GEO is larger than for some other directorates, including biological sciences (BIO) and mathematical and physical sciences (MPS). The FY 2016 target for GEO “was set before we knew what we were going to get in [FY] ’15,” he said. “Since we were reduced in ’15, this is sort of a make-up because our target was always the same. Since BIO and MPS got what they thought they were going to get in ’15, they are less than half of us. So, even though it was not a good story for ’15, it’s a good story for ’16 if we get the request.”

“No one is more crushed about ’15 than I am,” he added. “I’d like to think that ’16 is looking up. Let’s just cross our fingers that the request is what happens.”

Ocean Sciences Funding

The increased funding requested for GEO spans all divisions within the directorate, including atmospheric and ocean science (OCE), Earth sciences (EAR), geospace sciences (AGS), polar programs (PLR), and integrative and collaborative education and research (ICER).

The OCE budget would see a 3.8% increase from $356 million to $370 million. The budget for the academic research fleet, which is funded primarily through OCE, would nudge upward GEO-wide from $87 million to $88 million. GEO-wide funding for the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) would remain flat at $55 million and the budget for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), which undertakes scientific ocean drilling, would also stay flat at $48 million.

OCE and GEO have begun studying a 28 January U.S. National Research Council (NRC) report that calls for adjusting an imbalance between OCE funding for core ocean science research and escalating infrastructure costs. As reported earlier on Eos.org, Sea Change: 2015–2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences, commissioned by NSF, notes that OCE core programs received 62% of the division’s funding in 2000 but just 46% in 2014. The report calls for reductions in some infrastructure programs, including IODP, as well as reducing funding for OOI, which has not yet entered full operation, and for the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System academic research fleet.

Wakimoto said NSF needs more time to review the report before responding to it. “There are some very stark and detailed recommendations in that report,” he said. The NRC committee members “were very specific. People have been shocked reading it, how specific. They give exact percentages about what they see as the balance between infrastructure and research. They talk about preferentially decreasing one facility versus another, arguing that one facility supports core science priorities more than the other does.”

“Are they easy recommendations? No they’re not easy,” he continued. “I really want to spend a lot of time digesting this.”

Budgets for Other GEO Divisions

Within the GEO budget, EAR would see a 6.2% increase from $177 million to $188 million. Wakimoto said this proposed increase is because the division is more heavily invested in INFEWS and the Risk and Resilience initiative than other GEO divisions are.

The AGS budget would increase 4.7% from $251 million to $263 million. Within AGS, research would increase 8% from $123.4 million to $133.3 million. The National Center for Atmospheric Research would receive a modest 0.8% increase (from $98 million to $99 million).

PLR funding would increase 3% from $436 million to $450 million. PLR’s budget for infrastructure would increase 2.8% from $307.2 million to $315.9 million. As part of the infrastructure budget, the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) project would receive a 50% increase from $2 million to $3 million. Wakimoto said that AIMS is a response to a U.S. Antarctic Blue Ribbon Panel report.

Funding for ICER would jump 13.7% from $83.7 million to $95.2 million.

The directorate’s budget would also include funding for other major investments, including the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program (up 6.5% from $15.64 million to $16.65 million) and the Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (with a 29.2% increase from $11 million to $14.2 million). Funding for Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) would decrease 42.4% from $59 million to $34 million. Wakimoto said that SEES has been a very successful program that is slowly being ramped down.

Community Reaction to the GEO Budget Request

Kasey White, director for geoscience policy for the Geological Society of America, told Eos, “I’m pleased to see such a strong budget request for the National Science Foundation, particularly the proposed increases for the Geosciences Directorate. Increased investment in basic research in the geosciences can increase our understanding of the Earth and drive innovative solutions and technology to manage resources and mitigate natural hazards.”

Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a consortium of colleges and universities that conducts research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences, told Eos that UCAR is “very encouraged by the president’s budget. The increases to geosciences research will drive innovation and open doors to new industries like seasonal weather prediction. We have learned that a stronger understanding of earth and the atmosphere goes a long way toward protecting lives from natural disasters and growing the economy even during routine weather. That’s why funding for the geosciences pays for itself many times over.”

Paul Higgins, director of the American Meteorological Society’s policy program, told Eos that the overall federal science budget proposal “shows the strong support from President Obama for scientific research.” He said that it would be interesting to see how Congress responds to the administration’s efforts to end budget cuts known as sequestration.

About NSF specifically, Higgins commented, “Congress excluded NSF’s Geosciences Directorate from any of the funding increase that went to NSF in FY 2015. The president’s request for FY 2016 includes an increase to NSF’s GEO of 4.7%. That illustrates a divergence in views between the president and Congress on the importance of the geosciences to innovation and societal advancement.”

Watch Eos.org for continued coverage of the administration’s proposed budget for federal agencies.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015),  NSF Geosciences budget would rise 4.7% in White House request, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO023623. Published on 9 February 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0