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U.S. National Science Foundation could get $600 million in pandemic relief bill

The National Science Foundation (NSF) could receive an additional $600 million as part of the massive coronavirus pandemic relief bill moving through Congress this week. 

The money is not mentioned in the $1.9 trillion plan being taken up today by the Budget committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. But ScienceInsider has learned that it is expected to be added to the legislation before the full House votes on the package later this week. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would get a one-time budget increase of $150 million. The money comes from a $750-million allocation made available to the House science committee, led by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), for programs under its jurisdiction.

Under the terms of the overall relief package, the two agencies would be required to use the one-time bonanza to help the nation recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic, including damage to its science and technology enterprise. At NSF, whose current budget is $8.2 billion, the new money is likely to be spent on more research in pandemic-related topics as well as more support for educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. The funds for NIST, which now has a budget of $1 billion, are expected to bolster its network of manufacturing research institutes.

Higher-education advocates have been urging Congress to pay special attention to researchers just starting their careers, citing the devastating impact of shuttered labs, hiring freezes, and travel restrictions on graduate students, postdocs, and new faculty members. Last month Johnson and the committee’s top Republican, Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), reintroduced a measure that would authorize NSF to spend $250 million a year on fellowships to support such early-career scientists. That bill (HR 144) is not part of the COVID relief package, but its target audience is expected to benefit from the influx of money to NSF.  

NSF and NIST traditionally enjoy bipartisan support in Congress. Sources tell ScienceInsider that they expect the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee, which oversees the same two agencies, to endorse a similar allocation when that body takes up the overall relief measure in coming weeks. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Congress and President Joe Biden say their goal is to enact the relief package by mid-March, before the jobless benefits and other provisions in previous legislation expires.

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