Science Policy & Funding News

NSF’s Budget Details Provide Some Good News for the Geosciences

The budget features significant funding for polar region science, including efforts to document and understand rapid changes in the Arctic and to modernize Antarctic infrastructure.


New details released yesterday about the administration’s $7.47 billion funding request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year (FY) 2019 show that proposed budgets related to the geosciences are slated for two of the three biggest monetary and percentage increases among the agency’s major funding accounts. The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) requests $853 million, a 3.3% increase above the FY 2017 spending level. The Office of Polar Programs, which operates as part of GEO, gets a 14.3% boost, bringing its requested funding to $534.5 million. This assumes that Congress goes along with the White House’s request.

Only the budget for NSF’s Office of Integrative Activities fares better among the agency’s major accounts. The office’s $537 million requested budget, a 27.7% increase, includes funding for midscale research infrastructure and for several new areas known as “convergence accelerators,” which are initiatives to leverage resources across the agency to support innovative science.

This information (see Table 1) updates earlier budget materials released by NSF on 12 February.

The budget request “would allow NSF to build on the important work done by our directorates within individual fields by encouraging convergence among different disciplines in science and engineering and collaboration with partners in different disciplines in science and engineering and collaboration with partners in different sectors,” NSF director France Córdova said in a statement. “Investments that incorporate such an approach will accelerate U.S. innovation.”

Table 1. National Science Foundation’s FY 2019 Budget Request to Congressa
  FY 2017 Actualb FY 2019 Requestb Changeb Percentage Change
Research and Related Activities 6,006.5 6,150.7 144.2 2.4
Geosciences (GEO) 825.6 853.0 27.4 3.3
Office of Polar Programs (OPP) 467.9 534.5 66.7 14.3
Biological Sciences (BIO) 742.2 738.2 −4.1 −0.5
Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) 935.9 925.4 −10.5 −1.1
Engineering (ENG) 930.9 921.4 −9.5 −1.0
Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) 1,362.4 1,345.3 −17.1 −1.3
Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) 270.9 246.2 −24.7 –9.1
Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) 49.0 48.5 −0.5 −0.9
Integrative Activities (IA) 420.3 536.7 116.5 27.7
U.S. Arctic Research Commission 1.4 1.4 0.0 −0.7
Education and Human Resources 873.4 873.4 0.0 0.0
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction 222.8 94.7 −128.1 −57.5
Agency Operations and Award Management 382.1 333.6 −48.4 −12.7
National Science Board 4.3 4.3 0.1 1.2
Office of Inspector General 15.1 15.4 0.3 1.7
Total, NSF 7,504.1 7,472.0 −32.1 −0.4

aSources: “National Science Foundation FY 2019 Budget Request to Congress” and “Summary Table.”
bValues in millions of U.S. dollars, rounded to the nearest $0.1 million.

A Look at the Geosciences Budget

In the FY 2019 request, funding for the geosciences does well overall, although some divisions within GEO decline about 6% (see Table 2).

“GEO supports the [budget] request and is confident that it will allow significant advancement of knowledge about how the Earth works” and in other specific programs, GEO directorate head William Easterling told Eos. However, “with an overall NSF budget that is flat from FY17, and with the priorities of investing in [other NSF initiatives], some reductions in other areas are inevitable.”

As part of a whopping 37.4% increase, GEO’s Division of Integrative and Collaborative Education and Research would receive $30 million to fund the Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) program. NNA would establish an observing network “to document and understand the Arctic’s rapid biological, physical, chemical, and social changes,” according to NSF budget documents.

NSF calls NNA a “big idea.” In all, the agency’s proposed budget includes funding for its 10 big ideas, which are programs at the frontiers of science and engineering that the agency has selected for investment. In addition to NNA, GEO programs contribute to several other big ideas funded by other agency divisions: Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st Century Science and Education (funded at $30 million), Understanding the Rules of Life ($30 million), and INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science; $20 million).

“Virtually all areas of research supported by GEO are needed to advance the Big Ideas (NNA and others) and so we see broad opportunities for the Geosciences community within those investments,” Easterling told Eos.

Table 2. Directorate for Geosciences Budget Request for FY 2019a
FY 2017 Actualb Revised FY 2019 Requestb Changeb Percentage Change
Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) 253 239 −14 −5.6
Earth Sciences (EAR) 179 169 −10 −5.5
Integrative and Collaborative Education and Research (ICER) 76 105 29 37.4
Ocean Sciences (OCE) 317 340 23 7.2
Total 826 853 27 3.3

aSources: “National Science Foundation FY 2019 Budget Request to Congress” and “Directorate for Geosciences.”
bValues in millions of U.S. dollars, rounded to the nearest million.

In a budget proposed to go up 7.2%, GEO’s Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE) receives $174.8 million for infrastructure and $40 million for the Ocean Observatories Initiative. The ocean sciences also will benefit from a $28.7 million request for the $255.6 million Regional Class Research Vessel project, which is included in NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction funding account. However, the envisioned FY 2019 funding supports construction of only two of three regional class research vessels for which Congress appropriated money in FY 2017.

“In FY 2017, [Public Law] 115-31 appropriated $121.88 million in funding to facilitate the planning and construction of three vessels. In the context of the President’s overall fiscal goals intended to maintain spending restraint, this Budget Request supports construction of the two vessels,” NSF budget documents note.

Easterling expressed satisfaction with the proposed GEO budget despite some expected belt-tightening in certain areas. The proposal “will allow investments in NSF’s Big Ideas to begin, and it will allow important investments in research infrastructure through the start of modernization of McMurdo Station and through commitment to a second Regional Class Research Vessel for modernizing the academic fleet,” Easterling said.

Polar Funding

For its Office of Polar Programs (OPP), the NSF funding proposal includes $420.2 million for infrastructure, an increase of 21.3%. That includes $103.7 million in FY 2019 for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) construction project. In the budget document, the agency describes the $355 million project, which will modernize major facilities at McMurdo Station, as “a necessity for maintaining U.S. scientific and geopolitical eminence across the continent of Antarctica.”

OPP director Kelly Falkner told Eos that “we would be delighted to take [on] the long-needed, major overhaul of McMurdo Station to set the [U.S. Antarctic Program] on a more robust, sustainable pathway.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), NSF’s budget details provide some good news for the geosciences, Eos, 99, Published on 01 March 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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