President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 includes significant cuts to the NSF. Together we can urge Congress to reject proposed cuts and instead increase the budgets for federal science agencies.
Each year our lawmakers determine how much money will be allocated from “discretionary” government funds for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund researchers and students. Discretionary funds are divided into two pots— “defense” and “non-defense.” NSF funds come out of the non-defense discretionary (NDD) pot. In addition to the discretionary funds, we have the “entitlement” or “mandatory” programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A very short description of the very complex annual budget process appears on my AMS website . To give you some sense of amounts of money we are talking about, the fiscal year 2020 NDD amount was \$671 billion, with \$8.3 billion of that going to the NSF.
Some details for mathematics
For fiscal year 2021 (FY21), President Trump proposes a total of \$7.7 billion for the NSF, a 6.5% decrease from FY20. It is estimated that the NSF will receive over 34,000 research grant proposals and that about 25% will—if the President’s budget is in fact adopted—be funded (this percentage varies by directorate quite a bit). Of the \$7.7 billion, \$215 million will go to the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS). This represents a 9.4% decrease from FY2019 (final numbers for FY2020 are not known). Inside DMS, the research account will get \$205 million (an 8.9% cut), and the rest goes to education (an 18.1% cut). Roughly 54% of the DMS portfolio is available to support new research grants each year; the remaining 46% supports research grants made in prior years. Training the next generation of mathematical scientists and supporting the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes remain a priority. Partnerships are encouraged, and the proposed budget specifically asserts that:
“DMS can expand the impact of its research investments, including a partnership with CISE on data science through the Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science program. DMS also partners with the NIH on two programs in biosciences: the Joint DMS/National Institute of General Medical Sciences Initiative to Support Research at the Interface of the Biological and Mathematical Sciences, and the Joint DMS/National Library of Medicine Initiative on Generalizable Data Science Methods for Biomedical Research. Other partnerships include a program with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to develop the next generation of mathematical and statistical algorithms for analysis of large datasets; and a program on algorithms for modern power systems with DOE. Another program with the Simons Foundation and BIO supports research centers on the Mathematics of Complex Biological Systems.”
There are a few proposed cuts that are quite severe and are to programs well-used by the mathematics community, including a 30% cut to the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant program and an almost 20% cut to the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program (both cuts are from FY19 levels).
The NSF is comprised of seven research “directorates;” DMS sits inside the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The NSF is left to divvy up its funds to the directorates (as opposed to being mandated by law to spend specified amounts on biology, mathematics, etc.), with one exception—the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) receives its own budget.
Some details for education programs at NSF
EHR runs programs to build a diverse and highly skilled STEM workforce and also to increase STEM literacy more broadly. The proposal from the Trump administration is to cut the EHR budget by \$9 million, to \$931 million. The largest cuts are to support undergraduate education.
The Division of Graduate Education in fact would benefit, with an 11.3% increase. Mathematics graduate students are funded directly by EHR’s Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP), as well as through senior researcher’s individual grants. The NSF provides support for approximately 32% of the U.S. science and engineering graduate students receiving federal funds and about 5% of the science and engineering graduate students in the U.S. overall. While the number of senior researchers supported is expected to grow in 2021, the number of all others supported—including graduate students—is expected to shrink. The number of new GRFP fellows (in all fields) is expected to drop from 1,976 in FY19 to 1,600 in FY21. This decrease would be paired with an increase in funding for the Research Traineeship program with a focus on AI-related occupations. The traineeship program is distinguished from the GRFP by its emphasis on graduate students—at both the Masters and PhD level—working in research areas of national priority.
Other cuts in the education portfolio would be to the Minority Serving Institutions. Hispanic Serving Institutions would see a dramatic 68% cut and Tribal College and Universities would experience a 17% decline in investment.
A few other notable cuts that I bet affect many of us
President Trump also proposes to do away with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. This program—while not a perfect program—aims to help those who have careers in public service. In short, it erases remaining education loans for those who such careers, and who make regular payments for 10 years. Math professors who work at a public state college or city college are often eligible for student loan forgiveness through this program.
On a final gloomy note, the following are proposed to be eliminated altogether: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. President Trump has proposed, and failed to eliminate these every year he has been in office.
The President’s budget is just a first step in determining final appropriations and the White House released this budget—A Budget for America’s Future—on February 10. Next, the Senate and House each arrive at their own proposals, and then hash out their differences. When (and if) this is done, the President is then asked to sign their proposal into law. (If this process does not come to completion, we get a government shutdown.) President Trump’s FY21 proposal favors areas of interest to his administration—artificial intelligence and quantum information science, which are referred to as the “industries of the future.” The Big Ideas continue to garner support. Another winner in science is space exploration; specifically, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive a boost for its Moon to Mars program. Funding to NASA and NSF come from the same budget and so a gain for NASA could result in a loss for the NSF.
Congress is not likely to embrace the President’s budget, and final NSF appropriations have always exceeded President Trump’s proposals. For example, Congress has rejected his previous proposals to cut the GRFP program. Science reporter Jeff Mervis does a nice job of describing why this may be the case, and the political games that are played in arriving at a final budget. He explains that what the NSF proposes to do with the money, if President Trump’s FY21 budget is enacted, “employs the time-tested strategy of paring activities that Congress will almost certainly want to fund at a higher level.” This is just one example of this sort of political game that is played each year as Congress and the President together try to come to a budget agreement.
This post has focused on the President’s budget for the NSF. To get more details of the NSF budget, to read more about the budgets for other science agencies, and to keep up to date, I highly recommend the American Institute of Physics’ Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Finally, let me remind you (or tell you if you have somehow missed my post about the history of the NSF) that this year the NSF is 70 years old, and it is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Science, the Endless Frontier, in which Vannevar Bush outlined his vision for what would become the NSF. Our national investment in the NSF—the only agency with no guiding scientific mission determining its choices of projects to fund—is more important now than ever!
What can you do?
President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 includes significant cuts to the NSF. Together we can urge Congress to reject proposed cuts and instead increase the budgets for federal science agencies. Tell Congress to prioritize science funding by signing your letter here!