Final FY 2023 Appropriations Underwhelming Support for Science
Bethany Johns American Astronomical Society (AAS)
This year was a hopeful time for science after the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as the release of the astronomy and planetary science decadal surveys and the anticipation of the upcoming solar physics decadal. This was the year that NSF would receive a funding increase to support the new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This was the year that the federal appropriations process would include support for the astronomical decadal surveys.
But we did not see this support for science in the FY 2023 appropriations. Congress passed the final appropriations bill on 23 December, and the president signed it into law on 29 December. Here are some details on the funding for NSF and NASA.
The FY 2023 appropriations bill provides $9.87 billion for NSF, a 12% increase over FY 2022 enacted levels. However, it falls short of the funding levels authorized at $11.9 billion in the CHIPS and Science Act. All of the increase for NSF is provided in a supplemental funding package for disaster relief, $1.036 billion in supplementary funding for NSF base programming ($700 million) and CHIPS and Science implementation ($335 million). This is reminiscent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in FY 2009, which gave NSF a stimulus of $3 billion, half of its entire 2008 budget. The ARRA stimulus put NSF on the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 (America COMPETES Act) funding track, but the trend to increase NSF funding did not last.
The bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 was signed into law this summer and included historic investments to revitalize America’s scientific research and technological leadership. The bill authorizes funding increases for many science agencies, but most notably are the policy changes Senator Chuck Schumer proposed for NSF before the pandemic back in 2019. NSF is authorized to receive $81 billion during fiscal years 2023 through 2027, an eye-popping increase of $36 billion, or 80%, over the agency’s existing baseline. Of this amount, $20 billion is to be dedicated to a new TIP Directorate. You can read more about the history of CHIPS and Science Act in a previous post, CHIPS and Science: A Massive Investment in Federal Science.
The science community saw this COMPETES-like legislation as an opportunity to increase federal R&D funding and called on Congress to match their policy bill with real dollars in the FY 2023 Appropriations bills. The previous COMPETES bills were during the era of the Budget Control Act and Congress didn’t appropriate funding to match the authorization levels in COMPETES Act of 2007 nor the COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The FY 2023 Appropriations was supposed to be a bold step toward winning the R&D spending game with China to maintain US leadership in critical science and technologies.
Increasing funding for NSF will require support from the White House, Congress, and the scientific community. We have urged the White House to request $15.65 billion in NSF research and education investments in FY 2024 as authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act. In the coming year, we must continue to advocate for the US scientific enterprise or risk losing our place as the global leader in research and innovation.
Growth in NSF’s topline will be important to fulfill the recommendations of the astronomical decadal surveys. NSF should continue being a global leader in building world-class scientific facilities and support the community of scientists who use them. Astronomy was the only scientific discipline in NSF to get a special mention in the FY 2023 Appropriations explanatory statement.
“Astronomy. — NSF is encouraged to provide appropriate levels of support for operating its current facilities, developing instrumentation, and preparing for investments in future world-class scientific research facilities. As such, the agreement provides up to $30,000,000 for NSF to support the design and development of next generation astronomy facilities recommended in the 'Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020' (Astro2020). NSF is also expected to support a balanced portfolio of astronomy research grants by scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research.”
We must ensure this is a $30 million increase to the current NSF Astronomy Division budget rather than a directive to carve out a slice of funding for design and development from the already constrained budget pie.
The bill provides NASA with $25.4 billion, an increase of 6% over FY 2022 enacted levels. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) will receive $7.8 billion, 2% more than FY 2022. SMD’s increase was the smallest of all the directorates. The Human Exploration directorate had the highest increase at 10%. In fact, the bill’s final number for SMD was lower than what both the House and Senate had proposed.
NASA Planetary Science and Heliophysics both got increases. Planetary Science remains the most well-funded of the science divisions. It received $3.2 billion, a rise of 3% from FY 2022. One of the main priorities of the planetary science decadal survey is to ensure that Planetary Science Research and Analysis (R&A) (the sum of five budgetary research components) is 10% of the total budget. The bill does not specifically appropriate funds for R&A, it will be up to NASA to make sure the funds get allocated in their operating budget. The FY 2023 NASA budget request fulfilled this priority by proposing funding research programs at 11%. With the increase in the total planetary science budget, it seems likely that NASA would allocate the appropriate amount of funds to fulfill this community priority.
Heliophysics received $805 million, an increase of 3% from FY 2022. The Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) 2024-2033 is currently underway. Funding increases are required to prepare the community to address the highest priority open science questions and implement the bold, new mission required to answer them.
Astrophysics was funded at $1.51 billion, a decrease of 4% from FY 2022. The decrease seems to come from the closeout of the SOFIA mission. Congress decided that the savings from the closing of a mission would not stay within the Astrophysics division and would not go toward any of the astronomy and astrophysics decadal priorities. In fact, they punt any funding for the decadal priorities and state in the explanatory statement, “As part of its preparations for implementing the Astro2020 recommendations, NASA is expected to include appropriate funding for technology maturation in its fiscal year 2024 budget request.” By the time Congress gets around to the FY 2024 appropriations it will be over two years since the decadal was released and without any funding for the decadal priorities.
Advocacy for science and the astronomical sciences will be critical in 2024. We must hold Congress accountable to fund mandates in the CHIPS and Science Act and the priorities in the astronomical decadal surveys.