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NSF Budget Update

John Yellen

Last Spring, Rep. Robert Walker, (R-Pa.) chairman of the U. S. House of Representatives Science Committee, suggested that the National Science Foundation (NSF) should not fund social science research. That statement combined, with budget cuts in other federal programs, has caused understandable concern in a number of research communities. The purpose of this article, written in mid-October 1995, is to inform archaeologists about the likely future of archaeology and other social and behavioral science programs at NSF. The bottom line is that while absolute assurances are not possible, it appears that program budgets will remain essentially unchanged from fiscal year 1995, and no ominous clouds loom on the horizon. In fiscal 1995, funds were sufficient to support about one in five regular research applications and that success ratio is likely to hold in 1996 as well.

The process that moves funds from the U.S. treasury to the NSF Archaeology Program involves a number of stages. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives must authorize and appropriate funds for NSF and the president must sign the spending bill. The NSF itself must then allocate specific amounts to individual programs. In response to Rep. Walker's comments last spring, large numbers of individuals, institutions, and professional organizations, including SAA, mobilized and presented a strong case for continued NSF social science funding. As a result, the House of Representatives bill contains no language singling out social sciences for special treatment of any sort and the Senate record includes bipartisan statements which explicitly support such work. It appears that the bill that will emerge from Congress will cut the overall NSF research budget by about 2 percent. Should this happen, it will be NSF's prerogative to determine how this reduction should be met, and both the director of NSF and its governing National Science Board have expressed strong support for the social sciences.

As of mid-October NSF's funding bill has not yet become law, and we are operating under a continuing resolution allowing the NSF to spend fiscal 1996 money even though the total amount for the year has not been decided. Social science program officers are proceeding on the assumption that allocations will be essentially unchanged from 1995 to 1996. It seems most reasonable for archaeologists to act on the same premise.

John Yellen directs the Archaeology Program at the National Science Foundation.

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