The United States House and Senate have just released their versions of the FY 2013 appropriations bills for the National Science Foundation, one of America’s most prominent scientific funding bodies. Both chambers of Congress are more or less in agreement that the NSF should be funded about $7.3 billion, which is an increase of approximately 4% over FY 2012 levels. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee report, “The Committee’s fiscal year 2013 recommendation renews its support for Federal long-term basic research that has the potential to be transformative to our economy and our way of life in the context of a Federal budget that is shrinking.”
Of that $7.3 billion, about $5.9 billion is dedicated for research and related activities while the remainder goes to major research equipment, facilities construction and education. Of the $7.3 billion, about 3.4% of that is directed to astronomy research. The following justification and explanation for the astronomy appropriations comes directly from the Committee report:
“Astronomy. — The Committee recommends the full budget request of $244,550,000 for astronomical sciences in fiscal year 2013, of which $161,890,000 shall be used for infrastructure. The Committee welcomes the line item identification of pre-construction funds for future major MREFC [Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction] projects, including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the astrophysics decadal survey’s top ranked ground-based priority in the coming decade. This joint NSF-Department of Energy project will provide unprecedented views of the changing sky and will drive key advances in cyber-infrastructure and large-volume data management. The Committee provides funding at the request level in order to make progress towards a potential new start in a subsequent year, subject to the project meeting the necessary conditions for such action.
“The Committee notes that the Foundation has proposed a wide ranging review of the portfolio for investments in astronomy including optical astronomy facilities, radio astronomy facilities, and individual investigator grants. Although the overall budget request level for fiscal year 2013 proposed an increase for NSF of 4.8 percent over fiscal year 2012, astronomy infrastructure was proposed to be held constant in the fiscal year 2013 request. The Committee intends to review any proposed restructuring of the portfolio for astronomy to ensure balance among the competing programs, and that core infrastructure capabilities needed to preserve U.S. leadership and broad access for the community are preserved.
“Radio Astronomy. — United States-based astronomy facilities continue to make groundbreaking discoveries and conduct world-class scientific research. NSF should consider allocating adequate funding within the amounts provided to sustain operations at domestic radio astronomy facilities while transitioning to full operation of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.
While 3.4% of the overall science budget may seem small, the National Science Foundation provides support for all frields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences (these are primarily handled by the National Institutes of Health). Also, this allocation typically does not fund space-based science missions, which fall under NASA’s purview.