FY2006 budget implications for IT R&D

The President’s budget hit the Hill yesterday with the predictable media attention. With the focus on deficits and Social Security, some of the subtler details have gone overlooked. Particularly those related to funding for IT research and development. Peter at the Computing Research Association has given us a great analysis of the overall funding picture. USACM has taken a particular interest in the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is a small, but important, component of the story.

Depending on where you sit, there is good news and bad news about NIST’s funding. Overall funding is considerably down – about 24 percent (or $167 million). There is, however, a bit more to the story as funding for largely intramural research at NIST’s labs is up 13 percent (or $47 million). Further, IT research did reasonable well capturing roughly 20 percent of this new funding. This increase was particularly surprising in the midst of a generally austere budget where funding for science and technology was flat. (Funding for overall S&T was up just over one percent to $132 billion, but overall basic research fell by one percent.)

NIST’s $700 million budget is roughly broken into three parts (see table for funding breakout): core lab research, the largely extramural programs — Advanced Technology Program (which funds high-risk private sector technologies) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (which funds a national network of manufacturing service centers), and construction. The overall cut mention above is being driven by a 50 percent cut in MEP and the complete elimination of ATP. The construction account also dropped by about $14 million, but that was because the Administration dropped Congressional mandated non-NIST earmarks. This clearly shows the Administration’s support for intramural research at NIST and its distaste for the extramural programs.

One Congressional staffer described the increased funding as, “a bit of something for everyone” with new initiatives for first responders, homeland security, manufacturing, global markets, and health care. The new or expanding IT focused programs are:

  • $4 million for quantum computing
  • $2 million for “interoperability and security for emerging scientific system” (for example, standards for RFID systems)
  • $1.6 million for enterprise integration (creating software data-exchange standards for supply chains)
  • $7.2 million for biosystems, of which a small but undefined piece is for bioinformatics

How this will actually impact NIST’s information technology lab is rather unclear right now. The larger concern among most NIST watchers is that the Administration has set Congress up for an either/or choice. If it wants to restore funding for ATP and MEP, it will have to come out of the labs. This is a perennial concern and a well-founded one as last year’s funding for NIST’s labs dropped from the President’s request because of fights over ATP and MEP.

NIST’s Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Request

  FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 (request) % change
Scientific & Technical Research Services (Labs) 340.7 373.4 420.6 13%
Advanced Technology Program 177.3 140.4 0 NA
Manufacturing Extension Partnership 39.2 107.5 46.8 -56%
Construction 64.3 72.5 58.9 -19%
Total 621.5 693.8 526.3 -24%
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