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House-Senate committee agrees NSF budget boost

A House-Senate conference committee agreed to preliminary fiscal year (FY) 2012 budgets for several science agencies on 14 November, including that of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The measure, which must pass through the full House and Senate before being sent to President Obama for signature, would boost NSF’s budget by about 2.5 per cent to just over $7 billion.

The NSF figure in the $127.8bn bill known as the “Mini-bus” is much more generous than the Senate appropriators’ earlier proposal to cut the agency’s budget by 2.5 per cent, and the House appropriators’ previous recommendation of flat funding. However, it is still more than $730 million below Obama’s request for NSF.

The conference agreement would also increase NSF’s core research programme by $155m, or roughly 3 per cent, to $5.7bn.

In addition, it would grow NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account by $50m to $167m, and decrease the agency’s Education and Human Resources directorate by about 4 per cent, reducing it to $829m.

Those that did not fare as well as NSF under the conference agreement include NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). NASA would receive $17.8bn, a $648m drop that represents a 3.5 per cent cut. The figure is nearly $1bn less than the White House had requested.

Meanwhile, OSTP would see its small budget fall by more than 30 per cent under the conference agreement, from $6.65m to $4.5m. At issue is the office’s collaborations with China.

Following up on a prohibition in last year’s appropriations bill, the conference agreement contains language restricting OSTP activities that would carry the risk of technology transfers to China, while allowing other activities to proceed.

“This should enable OSTP to engage in beneficial collaborative endeavors, such as public health planning or disaster response activities, while providing greater protection for US economic and national security interests,” according to accompanying report language.