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Federal budget for science: Uncertainty and challenges

from NSBP

There are parallel tales unfolding with respect to the federal budget for science. President Barack Obama has proposed healthy increases (over fiscal year-2010 levels) for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. But "over FY-10" is a very important part of the last sentence because an FY-11 budget has not been enacted, and the federal government is operating on a continuing resolution where funding is capped at FY-10 levels. Without increases for inflation and other cost accelerations, a continuing resolution is an effective cut. And percent increases over FY-10 in the FY-12 budget should nominally be square rooted to arrive at an annualized percent increase.

Adding to the problem of operating under a continuing resolution, the new House GOP majority is pining to cut current year (FY-11) funding by $100 billion, including cuts to the DOE Office of Science and NSF. Since we are already halfway through FY-11, agency managers would have to doubly cut their operations to not exceed their top line obligating authority.

On Feb. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill cutting $62 billion from current year budgets, including $1.1 billion from the DOE Office of Science and $360 million from NSF. Though the Senate has indicated that it will not agree to the House bill, the political impasse over FY-11 spending seems to have the federal government hurtling towards an expiration of authorization of the federal government to operate, i.e., a government shutdown; making matters even worse. The last such shutdown, in 1995, lasted five weeks.

If anything is clear, it is that nothing is really clear, and that it is going to be a very bumpy ride between now and the start of FY-12. Writing to your representative and senators, and visiting their local and Washington offices are amongst active steps that physicists should take to protect federal investments in science. more

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