NSF, NIST appropriations cuts met with disappointment as Biden seeks increases

While the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other key CHIPS Act agencies would see boosts under Biden’s request, it still falls short of congressional authorizations.
President Joe Biden signs the CHIPS and Science Act during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 9, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology saw cuts in appropriations recently passed by Congress, prompting disappointment among lawmakers and experts. 

But even the programmatic funding increases President Joe Biden is seeking for those agencies and others in fiscal year 2025 fall short of what Congress authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act, highlighting the difficulty to support agencies key to science and technology goals within the confines and partisan tensions of the budget process. 

Biden’s budget, released Monday, came shortly after Congress passed a “minibus” of six bills to fund agencies for the current fiscal year. Under those appropriations, NSF received $9.06 billion, a roughly  8.3% decrease from the previous year, and NIST received $1.46 billion, a nearly 12% decrease. 

“There will be real impacts across the research enterprise with this reduction to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF),” an agency spokesman said of the minibus funding level in a written statement. “It is difficult to place this in the context of rapid, large-scale science investments by our competitors such as China with the express purpose of outcompeting the United States.”


A NIST spokesperson, meanwhile, noted in a statement that certain CHIPS programs, such as those for manufacturing incentives and R&D, “received full appropriations in the CHIPS and Science Act” but said the agency “will continue to work with Congress to secure funding for initiatives that were authorized but not fully appropriated.”

The CHIPS and Science Act was signed into law in 2022 to boost U.S. production of semiconductors — an important component for technologies from phones to national security systems — and to support scientific research and development in emerging technology areas like artificial intelligence and quantum computing. 

To help achieve those goals, the statute authorized funding targets for key agencies, including NSF, NIST, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. But in the years since the bill’s passage, budget requests and funding bills haven’t met those marks, and Biden’s new budget and the recent appropriations passed by Congress continue that trend.

Matt Hourihan, associate director of research and development and advanced industry at the Federation of American Scientists, said his bottom line with both the minibus and budget is “that we’re not going nearly far enough in investing [in] U.S. science and engineering, to bolster innovation, bolster competitiveness, bolster domestic talent.”

Minibus tension


The cuts to NIST and NSF were met with disappointment from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said in a statement to FedScoop that he was “disappointed in these funding levels” as a supporter of science and technology.

“Unfortunately, in our current fiscal environment we have to make difficult decisions and that’s reflected in this bipartisan, bicameral agreement. Our challenge is figuring out how to continue advancing American science and technology under these funding constraints,” Lucas said.

But House Democrats, while also unhappy with the funding levels, sharply criticized Republicans for the cuts.

“By forcing us to choose between these cuts or recklessly shutting down the federal government, extreme MAGA Republicans and Speaker [Mike] Johnson have handed our competitive edge to China on a silver platter,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, told FedScoop in a statement. Lofgren called the funding cuts “a blow to our economic competitiveness and national security” and said the biggest impact will be to the workforce.

Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich, the ranking member on the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology, similarly called the minibus decreases a “self-inflicted wound on American innovation and global leadership” in a comment provided to FedScoop. She also added that the “losses are solely in the hands of Republicans who pushed for these cuts.”


Areas of impact

The minibus included a decrease in the programmatic funding for NIST’s scientific and technical research and services account, from $890 million in fiscal year 2023 to $857 million in the minibus. That’s the first time the account — which funds things like AI, cybersecurity, quantum, and advanced technology research — has been cut, a House Science Committee Democratic staffer told FedScoop. 

A Senate Republican aide noted that NIST received a large funding increase for that account in fiscal year 2023 and said the minibus level is still higher than the funding for that account in fiscal year 2022.

That account also received $223 million in congressionally directed spending, or “earmarks,” which if included, is an increase from the account total with earmarks for the previous year. 

While the minibus did provide NIST with up to $10 million to set up the AI Safety Institute outlined in Biden’s executive order on the technology, the House Science Democratic staffer said other areas of the agency’s research could end up seeing cuts instead. The funding to establish the institute wasn’t the additional $10 million on top of existing appropriations for which a bipartisan group of lawmakers had advocated.


For NSF, the cuts will likely mean fewer opportunities for students and young scientists, as the agency’s work includes things like supporting graduate fellowships, education and training, Hourihan said. “All those programs can be affected by cuts of this magnitude,” he said.

The cuts could also impact NSF’s new Technology Innovations and Partnerships Directorate, which was established under CHIPS and is aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness in critical and emerging technologies through research.

That directorate was funded through a supplemental last year and wasn’t part of the omnibus, a House Science Democratic staffer noted. Now it’s in “starvation mode” and may have to compete with other directorates for funding, the staffer said.

Budget shortfall

Biden’s budget requests increases for both NSF and NIST’s baseline funding. NSF would get $10.18 billion and NIST would receive $1.5 billion


Even though there are increases for quite a few agencies in the president’s budget, Hourihan said they’re “not nearly as much” as the Biden administration has proposed in the past and “a far cry from the CHIPS and Science targets.” 

The White House request “is a function of the tight spending caps that are in place under the Fiscal Responsibility Act that Congress reached last year,” Hourihan said. That legislation was a compromise deal that raised the debt limit and placed caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

Hourihan estimates the budget, as is, would be an $8.5 billion shortfall from what was authorized for NSF, NIST and the DOE’s Office of Science in the CHIPS Act legislation.

Mark Becker, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, also noted the shortfall in a statement on Biden’s budget Monday, calling the request “a retreat from the bold vision outlined in the CHIPS and Science Act.”

“The funding bills Congress passed last week take a significant step backward on these priorities and the administration’s proposal for the next Fiscal Year falls short of addressing the scale of the challenge,” Becker said.

Madison Alder

Written by Madison Alder

Madison Alder is a reporter for FedScoop in Washington, D.C., covering government technology. Her reporting has included tracking government uses of artificial intelligence and monitoring changes in federal contracting. She’s broadly interested in issues involving health, law, and data. Before joining FedScoop, Madison was a reporter at Bloomberg Law where she covered several beats, including the federal judiciary, health policy, and employee benefits. A west-coaster at heart, Madison is originally from Seattle and is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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