FYI: Science Policy News

FY 2016 Appropriations: National Science Foundation Spending to Grow 1.6%

DEC 17, 2015
The annual spending legislation for FY 2016 would increase spending at the National Science Foundation by 1.6 percent over FY 2015 levels and provide direction to the agency on matters including research grant transparency, the replicability of scientific research, technology transfer, the future of supercomputing, astronomical sciences facilities and STEM education
Former Director of FYI

Congress is nearing the completion of its FY 2016 budget process, as negotiators released the FY 2016 year-end annual spending bill for review on Tuesday evening. As FYI reported yesterday , the legislation contains $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending authority and designates funding levels for the nation’s major science agencies, offices and programs through the end of September 2016, including for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSF section of the spending bill’s joint explanatory statement can be found on pages 31-33.

Agency / Account / Directorate

FY14 actual

FY15 enacted

FY16 President’s request

FY16 enacted

Change between FY15 and FY16

National Science Foundation






Research & Related Activities






Education & Human Resources






Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction






* Figures in millions of U.S dollars

As the table above shows, NSF is slated for a 1.6 percent increase in spending between FY 2015 and FY 2016, and within that amount a 1.7 percent increase in spending on the six major research directorates: Biological Sciences, Computer & Information Science & Engineering; Engineering; Geosciences; Mathematical & Physical Sciences; and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE).

A 1.6 percent increase for the research grant awarding agency would be comparatively significantly lower than the overall 5.2 percent increase overall federal discretionary spending is receiving in FY 2016. It would also be lower than what the spending bill proposes for most of the other federal science agencies and offices in FY 2016.

Of note in the NSF section of the joint explanatory statement, the bill would retract earlier House language that would have restricted research funding to certain directorates and led to significant funding cuts for the Geosciences and SBE research directorates. However, the bill still caps spending on SBE research at FY 2015 levels.

While Congress designates spending levels for total NSF Research, in recent years it has left to the agency the responsibility for how to distribute billions of dollars of NSF research among its directorates, in consultation with the National Science Board and the White House. After the FY 2016 spending bill is signed into law, NSF will develop a spending plan in which it will make budget allocations to each research directorate, on the basis of guidance from Congress.

The NSF portion of the FY 2016 spending bill would also:

  • Encourage NSF to continue efforts to improve transparency, including requiring “public award abstracts to articulate how the project serves the national interest” (in line with NSF grant practices the agency updated about one year ago, and on which FYI reported last December);
  • Direct NSF to provide periodic updates on improvements in the “replicability of scientific research”;
  • Via House and Senate proposals, allow “public and private technology transfer organizations that facilitate or accelerate the commercialization of technologies developed by institutions of higher education” to apply for grants related to technology commercialization;
  • Via House and Senate proposals, urge NSF to continue its commitment to “modernizing its world-class big data and high-performance computing,” and report on any plans to incorporate the recommendations of an upcoming National Research Council report on advanced computing infrastructure into its approach for supercomputing;
  • Via a Senate proposal, encourage NSF to continue funding programs and facilities in the Astronomical Sciences Division, and direct NSF to develop within one year “a five-year transition plan for the continued use of existing solar observatories”;
  • Via a House proposal, restrict NSF from divesting in astronomical sciences infrastructure tied to the findings of its 2012 Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review;
  • Via a House proposal, provide $99.7 million for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which promises to provide an ultra-wide field image of the universe;
  • Via a Senate proposal, provide the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program with $60.9 million, the President’s requested level, to meet critical needs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in elementary and secondary schools;
  • Via a Senate proposal, request that NSF work with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on a plan for how NSF could implement “a broader program for graduate and undergraduate STEM programs across the entire federal government,” an approach that would be consistent with the government-wide STEM education reorganization President Obama has proposed;
  • Provide $62.5 million for the Advanced Informal STEM Learning program; and
  • Provide no less than $160 million for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which provides competitive research funding to states and territories that traditionally have struggled to secure research funding.

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