Call to action: Remind Congress that science research funding is important

Posted by Liz Kruesi
on Friday, May 23, 2014

It’s no secret that the current state of science funding is in a pretty sad state. NASA’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget was the lowest, in terms of the percent of federal budget — 0.47 percent — that it has ever been in the space agency’s 55-year existence. And the presidential administration’s proposed FY 2015 budget drops it even lower, to 0.46 percent of the federal budget. That budget proposal came out in March. The United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies reviewed the proposal and has many requested changes to it and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget. And some of those are good news for science research. But it won’t do anything until it passes the House of Representatives.

The American Astronomical Society released an 'action alert' to urge members of the House of Representatives to support the increased funding levels for basic science research at NASA and NSF in the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill when it comes to the House floor for consideration next week.
The FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Bill (H.R. 4660) will reach the floor of the House next week, likely Wednesday May 28. There, the House can pass it in full, reject it in full, or amend it.

The bill includes increases to basic science research — NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD, responsible for space science projects) and the NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) yesterday sent out a call to action to its members to contact their House representatives and ask that they support the increased funding.

 Here’s a summary of the numbers, from the AAS release:

“The bill, as currently written, would increase the NASA top-line budget to $17.9 billion, a 1.4 percent increase over FY 2014 and 2.5 percent over the President’s Budget Request (“the request”). In that context, SMD would increase to $5.19 billion, $42 million over FY 2014 and $221 million over the request. The NSF budget would increase to $7.4 billion, a 3.2 percent increase over FY 2014 and 2.1 percent over the request. Of that total, the research account would increase to $5.97 billion, a 2.8 percent increase over both last year and the request; the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would increase by $1 million to $201 million, including full funding for construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (formerly the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope). The Education and Human Resources directorate, which funds science education research as well as the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, would also increase by 3.5 percent relative to FY 2014 to $876 million, though this is 1.5 percent below the request.”

AAS is hoping to garner support in the astronomical community for these increased funding. The society also mentions the importance of ensuring that amendments aren’t added to the bill when on the House floor to cut this additional funding. Here’s more from the AAS call to action:

“Under current budget rules, any increases for programs in the bill must be offset by decreases to other programs within this same bill. The attempts to shift funding away from NSF would come in the form of amendments on the House floor when the chamber considers the bill on or about Wednesday, May 28th. Please consider contacting your member of the House of Representatives as soon as possible and certainly before May 28th. If you do contact your Representative, we encourage you to convey a nuanced two-part message: (1) support for the NSF and NASA funding levels in the bill as introduced, and (2) opposition to amendments that would reduce these levels.”

If you also believe science research is important, consider contacting your representative before May 28. Basic science research has led to crucial technologies that we use everyday — like the GPS system, faster computing power, and medical imaging processing programs. So, please, help the scientific community to remind Congress how important astronomy is.

You can find the H.R. 4660 Bill here and the report about the appropriations here. The AAS Action Alert includes instructions roughly one-quarter of the way down the page (under “What to Do”) about contacting your member of the House of Representatives. While the directions are for AAS astronomers, it could only help to have members of the public making the same plea!

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