Final FY21 Appropriations: National Institute of Standards and Technology
Under its fiscal year 2021 appropriation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s topline budget is remaining flat at just over $1.03 billion, with increases for research programs offset by a reduction in facility construction and maintenance. As in prior years, Congress rejected the steep cuts the Trump administration proposed for NIST’s research and industry services programs.
An explanatory statement accompanying the bill provides funding and policy direction, and language from the House Appropriations Committee report conveys additional direction unless specifically negated in the final statement. The Senate Appropriations Committee did not formally submit its report, but language from a publicly released draft is incorporated in the explanatory statement. For summary tables, consult the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker .
NIST’s laboratory programs are funded through the Scientific and Technical Research and Services account, which is increasing by $34 million to $788 million. Much of the additional funding is allocated to quantum information science and artificial intelligence research.
QIS and AI. Congress directs NIST to increase funding for quantum information science from $40 million to at least $46.5 million and encourages the agency to expand collaborations with industry, universities, and federal laboratories. NIST is directed to fund its AI portfolio at no less than $6.5 million above its fiscal year 2020 level, which was not reported in the agency’s latest budget justification. Via the House report, Congress encourages NIST to create an interagency plan for engaging with private industry to develop “data characterization standards” for AI, which it suggests could ensure “proper sample data attribution to help when querying different features to build auto detection models.” NIST is also instructed to establish a multi-stakeholder process for developing a risk management framework” focused on the “reliability, robustness, and trustworthiness of AI systems.”
Climate change mitigation. Congress allocates $3 million for direct air capture and carbon dioxide removal research, directed specifically toward developing standard reference materials and testing procedures, as well as increasing support for “carbonate materials development, testing, and certification for construction markets.” Congress also repeats concerns it expressed last year about the adequacy of current building standards in a changing climate, calling on NIST to “identify a consistent and authoritative set of climate information that emphasizes forward-looking climate data and projections that should be utilized in the standard-setting process.” It adds that such information will help to develop voluntary building standards that take into account “increasingly extreme weather events and other climate change challenges.”
Forensic science. Congress increases funding for forensic science research by $1 million to $20 million, of which at least $3.5 million is allocated to a set of committees developing standards for specific forensics techniques. It also directs NIST to produce a plan for helping courtroom officials understand the “science and concepts underlying the professional analyses of forensic experts.”
5G telecommunications. Congress did not adopt House direction to provide a $1.4 million increase for work on 5G telecommunication technologies. The House had proposed the agency use the funds to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “increase spectrum efficiency to ensure the effective and speedy national rollout of 5G U.S. telecommunication networks.”
Research facility construction
The budget for NIST’s research facilities construction account is cut by one-third to $80 million, of which at least $70 million is allocated to Safety, Capacity, Maintenance, and Major Repairs (SCMMR). In addition, the legislation does not support NIST’s proposal to finance renovations of the main building on its Colorado campus through a new Federal Capital Revolving Fund administered by the General Services Administration.
Congress directs NIST to commission an independent assessment of the “comprehensive capital needs” of its campuses. The assessment is expected to “identify facilities in greatest need of repair, describe the work needed to bring them up to current standards, and include cost estimates for each project.” NIST currently faces a large backlog of facilities maintenance at its Colorado and Maryland campuses, and it has estimated that an annual funding level for SCMMR projects in the range of $115 million to $144 million would be prudent.
Industrial technology services
The Industrial Technology Services account is increasing by $4.5 million to $167 million, with $4 million of the increase allocated to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which provides technical assistance to U.S. manufacturing businesses. The remainder increases NIST’s support for the Manufacturing USA network of institutes to $16.5 million. Of this amount, up to $5 million is for network coordination activities, $10 million is for the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, and $1.5 million is for a “competitive grant program to develop technology roadmaps for promising advanced manufacturing clusters.”