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Monday, October 11, 2010

U.S. National Science Foundation: Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction

Christine M. Matthews
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account of the National Science Foundation (NSF) supports the acquisition and construction of major research facilities and equipment that are to extend the boundaries of science, engineering, and technology. The facilities include telescopes, earth simulators, astronomical observatories, and mobile research platforms. Currently, the NSF provides approximately $1.0 billion annually in support of facilities and other infrastructure projects. While the NSF does not directly design or operate research facilities, it does have final responsibility for oversight and management. Questions have been raised by many in the scientific community and in Congress concerning the adequacy of the planning and management of NSF facilities. In addition, there has been debate related to the criteria used to select projects for MREFC support.

The FY2011 request for the NSF is $7,424.4 million, approximately $551.9 million above the FY2010 estimate. Included in the requested funding is $165.2 million for MREFC, a 40.8% increase above the FY2010 estimate of $117.3 million. In FY2011, NSF anticipates construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), at a cost of $20.0 million. The NEON will compile data on the effects of climate changes, land use changes, invasive species on natural resources, and biodiversity. In addition to the support of NEON, NSF will continue its support of four ongoing major construction projects—the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory ($23.6 million), the Atacama Large Millimeter Array ($13.9 million), the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope ($17.0 million), and the Ocean Observatories Initiative ($90.7 million).

On July 22, 2010, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved S. 3636, Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill, FY2011 (S.Rept. 111-229). The Senate bill requests a total of $7,353.4 million for the NSF in FY2011, approximately $71.0 million below the Administration’s FY2011 request and $480.9 million above the FY2010 estimate. Included in the support for NSF is $155.2 million for MREFC, a 32.3% increase ($37.9 million) over the FY2010 estimate.

Date of Report: September 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS21267
Price: $29.95

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