US President Proposes Cuts at NSF

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According to the budget proposal, NSF will continue to invest in its Big Ideas and Convergence Accelerator, providing support for “bold inquiries into the frontiers of science and engineering” in order “to break down the silos of conventional scientific research funded by NSF to embrace the cross-disciplinary and dynamic nature of the science of the future.” 

The US President has proposed a 6.5 percent cut to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year (FY) 2021.  The science agency is slated to receive $7.7 billion, which is $537 million below the FY 2020 level enacted by Congress.
Among the research-focused Big Ideas, Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL), Navigating the New Arctic (NNA), and Windows on the Universe would each receive flat funding of $30 million relative to FY 2019.  The agency would allocate $45 million each to Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) (+50 percent) and the Future of Work at the Human Technology Frontier (+50 percent).  Quantum Leap (QL): Leading the Next Quantum Revolution, would receive $50 million, which is a 67 percent increase relative to FY 2019.  NSF INCLUDES, which supports education and career pathways to help broaden participation in science and engineering and build a diverse and skilled American workforce, would receive $18.9 million (-6 percent).  Growing Convergence Research at NSF would receive a 3.8 percent cut, while Mid-scale Research Infrastructure would receive a boost of 63 percent compared to FY 2019.  For the Convergence Accelerator, the agency would provide a 60 percent boost compared to FY 2019 for a total of $70 million.
Research would be cut by 7.8 percent.  The Research and Related Activities account would receive $6.2 billion, $524 million below FY 2020.  Most research directorates across the agency would lose funding relative to FY 2019.

Within BIO, which provides about 67 percent of federal funding for fundamental non-medical biological research at academic institutions, funding cuts would be allocated to its five divisions accordingly (relative to FY 2019):

  • Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: $130.9 million (-9.5 percent)
  • Integrative Organismal Systems: $175.8 million (-9.5 percent)
  • Environmental Biology: $150.3 million (-2.2 percent)
  • Biological Infrastructure (DBI): $158 million (-12.6 percent)
  • Emerging Frontiers: $89.9 million (-18.5 percent)

The “bioeconomy” has been recognized as a research priority by the White House Office of Science and Technology.  The BIO directorate would increase investments to support the bioeconomy to $96 million (+6.7 percent compared to FY 2019) through research funding programs in synthetic biology, genomics, bioinformatics, and biotechnology, and training fellowships to build the U.S. workforce.  Other research directorates within NSF will work together with BIO to make investments in the bioeconomy, including CISE ($4.75 million), ENG ($96 million), and MPS ($25 million).  
Other major BIO investments include stewardship for URoL, Advanced Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Sciences (QIS), and Understanding the Brain (UtB), which includes the BRAIN initiative.  URoL would support multi-disciplinary, team science approaches towards a predictive understanding of how complex traits of an organism emerge from the interaction of its genetic makeup with the environment.  In collaboration with the Engineering Directorate, BIO would support Advanced Manufacturing through investments in synthetic biology.  Investments in Artificial Intelligence through the Division of Biological Infrastructure would focus on applying machine learning and genetic algorithms in biological research to solve problems such as genome sequence alignment, predicting species range distributions, and predicting protein structure.  The directorate would also increase funding for QIS through investments in fundamental research in biophysics to understand quantum phenomena within living systems.
The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)would receive a total of $65 million in FY 2021 through DBI, a decrease of 12 percent from FY 2019.  
The Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) would operate at $931million, one percent below FY 2020.  Within EHR, the Division of Undergraduate Education would see their budget cut by nearly 11 percent, while the Division of Graduate Education would receive an 11 percent boost compared to FY 2019.  NSF’s investments in the STEM professional workforce would fall by 8.4 percent relative to FY 2019 to $430 million.  EHR would allocate $9 million for bioeconomy through research and workforce development programs.
Support for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) would decrease by 5.5 percent to $230 million compared to FY 2020.  Agency Operations and Award Management would receive a 2.6 percent boost, while the National Science Board would lose 6.4 percent compared to FY 2020.
The NSF Innovation Corps, which improves researchers’ access to resources that help transfer knowledge to downstream technological applications, would receive $31.4 million, a decrease of 4 percent from FY 2019.
Cross-cutting programs would receive funding cuts all across the board.  The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network would receive $28 million, nearly 16 percent below FY 2019.  The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program would be slashed by 19.2 percent compared to FY 2019.  Support for Faculty early career development programs or CAREER grants would be slashed by 30.2 percent compared to FY 2019.
NSF Graduate Research Fellowships would be cut by 3.3 percent compared to FY 2019 to $275 million in FY 2021, while support for NSF’s Research Traineeship program would increase to $62 million (+14.4 percent).

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