Increases Proposed for Basic Research Agencies; NIST Proposes New Cyber Security Program

For the past few years we’ve been following funding for three key physical science agencies — The National Science Foundation (NSF), The Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Last week the President released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, which contains some healthy increases for these agencies. Below is snapshot table of the proposal and a more detailed look at NIST’s budget, and, as usual, CRA has in-depth coverage as well.

Agency (Figures in Millions) FY09 Proposed FY08 % change $ change
National Science Foundation
NSF Research Account $5,593 $4,821 16% $772
NSF Education Account $790 $725 9% $65
NIST Labs $535 $442 21% $94
Department of Energy Office of Science w/o earmarks $4,720 $3,850 23% $870

If approved by Congress, these levels would restore some of the damage done by flat-funding these key agencies last year. However, these are just targets. As I described in a previous post, the appropriations process is going to be a long grind this year. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it go into 2009 before it is resolved.

Taking a deeper look at NIST’s budget, the good news/bad news story is pretty similar to previous years. The good is that the Administration is proposing a substantial 21 percent increase for research funding at the labs. The bad is that it also proposes only close-out costs for two programs that have favor in Congress — the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program and the Technology Innovation Program (TIP — formerly the Advance Technology Program [ATP]). While we don’t have any particular interest in these two programs, the decision has a practical impact on the lab budget. Congress will balk at zeroing out these two programs and look for funding from the proposed lab increases.

The other looming issue with NIST’s budget is the ever increasing role that earmarks are playing. As a policy, the Administration requests no funding for earmarks, and Congress is almost certain to put substantial ones back in NIST’s construction budget. Last year, the $80 million in earmarks dominated NIST’s budget, as Congress only increased the lab budget by $6 million.

A good chunk of funding within the President’s request would go towards new and existing computing-related programs. First, as part of the Administration’s yet-to-be-released new Comprehensive Cyber Security Initiative, NIST is requesting $5 million for “Leap Ahead Technologies” including:

  • “create technical standards for generating, distributing, using, storing and destroying secret numbers known as cryptographic keys, commonly used to grant access to authorized individuals on encrypted computer networks and systems. This effort will be conducted in technical consultation with the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), as well as other government agencies and non-government organizations;
  • nurture the development of “multifactor authentication” methods. Such methods require users to verify their identities through multiple methods, such as passwords and iris scans, rather than just one. NIST will develop a standardized framework that ensures these methods work across different computer platforms and operating systems. The effort will be coordinated with vendors and federal departments, including the Department of Homeland Security; and
  • extend the Federal Desktop Core Configuration, a set of standard security settings that optimize security to other operating systems, applications, and network devices beyond the existing support for Windows XP and Vista.”

NIST also proposes $5.8 million for a new optical communications and computing program aimed at developing a new generation of transmission and networking technologies. Finally, NIST would allocate $7 million to continue its work on quantum science, including quantum computing.

The proposed FY09 budget for the labs is welcome news, but the road before it will be long and difficult. Last year the Administration proposed a $66 million increase for the labs. NIST got $6 million, which undermined many planned initiatives. Let’s hope for a better outcome this year.

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