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Update on the congressional appropriations process and the potential ramifications for NSF and the MSP program.

The Congressional appropriations process grinds onward, at a pace affected by election-year distractions and the traditional summer slow-down. Congress has now adjourned until after Labor Day, but the election season will continue to affect how business gets done, and this is most significant in the area of appropriations.

Just before adjourning, the VA/HUD/Independent Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee gave final approval to its fiscal year (FY) 05 budget, which includes its recommended appropriation for the NSF. In this bill, appropriations for NSF and other independent agencies were in tensions with funding requests for the VA and HUD programs (especially veterans' health care and HUD Section 8 housing vouchers).

The news for NSF as a whole is not good, but the news for EHR is worse. NSF's overall appropriation, if this version of the bill is sustained, would be reduced by about 2% from FY 04. EHR, however, would be reduced 10.6% from FY 04 levels. Big changes include a drop in MSP funding from FY 04 from about $139 million to $82.5 million, a reduction of $56.6 million, leaving basically enough money to continue previously funded projects. Two programs were left unfunded: the Workforce for the 21st Century, and the next cohort of Science and Technology Centers.

By contrast, Informal Education would see an appropriation of $62.1 million and ATE an increase to $45.2 million. Finally, the committee recommended that funding for EPSCoR (the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) be increased within EHR (the request was for $80 million, the committee approved a final figure of $94.4 million).

This portion of the appropriations bill needs now to receive full committee approval before going to the House floor. Meanwhile, the corresponding Senate subcommittee has not yet done its work, so that "half" of the legislative process will have to wait until after Labor Day to get rolling. Then the Senate Appropriations Committee will need to pass on the final recommendation to the full Senate, and the output from that process will then be reconciled with the House bill. The Senate's opinion about these matters may be somewhat different from the House's, so the conference process may well be more unpredictable and complex than usual.

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