SIAM News Blog

NSF Releases Details of Proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget

By Eliana Perlmutter and Miriam Quintal

On February 28, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published its detailed budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2019. Outlining agency priorities and proposed funding levels as directed by the Trump administration, the request came weeks after the release of the president’s government-wide FY 2019 federal budget proposal. The White House had planned to propose deep cuts—almost 30 percent below FY 2017 levels—to the NSF. However, due to increased spending caps in the new budget agreement for FY 2018 and FY 2019, the administration added $2.2 billion back into the NSF budget request, allowing essentially flat funding overall and a 2.4 percent increase to $6.15 billion for the Research and Related Activities account that funds all NSF research directorates. The president’s budget request release discloses agency and administration priorities, and kicks off the appropriations process to fund the government for FY 2019. Congress is ultimately responsible for determining funding levels for individual agencies. FY 2019 will start on October 1, 2018, although final appropriations levels are not expected until after the completion of midterm elections this fall.

The NSF continues to focus on its 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments, launched by director France Córdova in May 2016. The NSF will provide $342 million for the ideas, which address exciting scientific challenge areas, thus enabling growth and new programs across all ten domains. Six of the ideas—including Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR), the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF), Navigating the New Arctic, Windows on the Universe: the Era of Multi-Messenger Astrophysics (WoU), the Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution (QL), and Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype—will receive $30 million under the budget request. While individual directorates will hold funding for each Big Idea, cross-directorate working groups will continue to lead the initiatives and determine specific thrusts and investments.

$60 million in funding is included for two new convergence accelerators related to HDR and FW-HTF. These accelerators will seek partnerships with other agencies, industry, foundations, and international organizations to support translational research, testbeds, infrastructure access, and workforce considerations. The other four Big Ideas supported under the budget request center on NSF process improvements to enable science and engineering advancement. For example, mid-scale research infrastructure will receive $60 million under the Office of Integrative Activities to facilitate mid-scale funding for projects across science and engineering disciplines. Additionally, the NSF proposes $16 million for growing convergence research to identify compelling convergent research challenges and fund exploratory science, engineering, and workforce efforts to tackle these challenges.

Many programs will see reductions under this budget proposal, including several Obama-era initiatives already slated to wind down, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, and multiple education programs. Apart from major cross-cutting initiatives and details about certain STEM programs, the budget request provides no information about whether or how individual divisions will apply reductions across their core activities. The Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) will face a 1.3 percent reduction from its FY 2017 level, for a total funding level of $1.345 billion. The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) will be down 6.3 percent to $219 million. All of the disciplinary divisions in the MPS are expected to decrease from their FY 2017 levels by between five and 8.2 percent, while the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (OMA) is projected to grow 197 percent to $103 million. This growth reflects the assumption that the OMA will hold the funding for QL and WoU, two of the Big Ideas. Elsewhere in the foundation, the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering will be down 1.1 percent from FY 2017 to $925 million, and the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure will drop 5.9 percent to $210 million. Despite the proposed decreases, NSF leadership has indicated their continued commitment to a robust core research portfolio.

While the president’s budget request recommends flat funding for the NSF overall in FY 2019, the research advocacy community is pushing for robust growth to $8.45 billion. SIAM will continue to participate in these efforts and ensure that Congress is aware of both the NSF’s importance to the applied mathematics and computational science community, and the need to guarantee NSF funding at levels permitting strong investment in the Big Ideas while also protecting core activities.

View the complete NSF FY 2019 budget request online.

Eliana Perlmutter is a Legislative Research Assistant and Miriam Quintal is SIAM’s Washington liaison at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.

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