29 April 2013

News from the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences

James Ulvestad National Science Foundation

FY 2013 Budget

At this writing, on April 26, it has been approximately one month since a Continuing Resolution was passed to fund the federal government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends on September 30, 2013. This funding action is still subject to an across-the-board rescission of 1.877% plus the sequestration cut of approximately 5%. The appropriation has not yet been translated into a prospective budget number for AST, so we cannot yet report on our budget for the current Fiscal Year. Once AST is given a budget number, our plan will be incorporated into an NSF-wide plan that is submitted to Congress for approval, which is expected to come sometime in June. Until then, with fewer than four months remaining in the fiscal year, AST will not be able to start executing a plan.

We are just winding down our last few panels in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants (AAG) program and will go ahead to decline proposals that cannot be funded under any feasible budget scenario. But the primary consequence of the budgetary delay is that AAG research awards are unlikely to be made until at least June, if not later. The number of awards that can be made will depend on the final budget level and on what element of risk we take on by making out-year commitments in the face of continued budget uncertainty.

FY 2014 Budget Request

The President’s FY 2014 Budget Request was submitted to Congress in April and contains some excellent news for the astronomy community. A construction start for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), in the NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) line, was included in the request. The proposed start for LSST is late in the FY, approximately July 1, 2014. This start is still subject to successful passage of an NSF Final Design Review later this year, approval of a construction award by the National Science Board, and the appropriation of funds by Congress. We are very pleased by the request for initiation of construction on the first-priority large project from the 2010 decadal survey.

The AST divisional budget request also includes a small amount ($7M) for initiation of a Mid-Scale Innovations Program, the second-priority large program in the decadal survey. Present budget expectations preclude a larger request and make it infeasible to consider funding of mid-scale programs in the upper end of the $4M-$135M range called out by the decadal survey. Given the pent-up demand, the broad scope for MSIP recommended by the AST Portfolio Review Committee, and the restricted budget, we expect a modest funding rate for mid-scale proposals. AST hopes to issue a solicitation in mid-2013 that will contain more details of the prospective program.

The total AST Budget Request for FY 2014 is $243.6M. Although this is higher than the appropriations for FY 2011 and FY 2012, it is still lower than the FY 2010 AST spending of $246.5M. Readers are reminded that the Budget Request is just that, only a request! In FY 2011 and FY 2012 the appropriated budget for AST was approximately $15M below the President’s Budget Request, while the final number for FY 2013 (see previous item) is not yet known.  For more information on the FY 2014 Budget Request, please see http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2014/index.jsp.

Partnerships in Astronomy and Astrophysics Research and Education (PAARE)

We are pleased to announce that we expect to call for proposals for the PAARE program this summer. PAARE is designed to stimulate the development of formal, long-term, collaborative research and education partnerships between minority-serving institutions and partners at research institutions. The new solicitation for PAARE has not yet been released. Pending final clearance, we anticipate an August submission deadline. Interested proposers should look for the final solicitation in the near future, or contact Dan Evans at [email protected].

ALMA Inauguration

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) was officially inaugurated in Chile on March 13. The President of Chile and the NSF Director were among the distinguished speakers at the ceremony, which included a special message of congratulations from our NASA and Canadian Space Agency colleagues on the International Space Station. At present, 55 of the 66 ALMA antennas are located at the ALMA observation site, while the remaining antennas are undergoing their final assembly and outfitting at the mid-level support facility.

Management Competitions for National Facilities

Several of the national observatories funded by AST will be undergoing management competitions over the next few years; we anticipate the release of solicitations this summer. For more details, please see the Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs) for NRAO/ALMA, NOAO, and Gemini on the AST web page at http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=ast. Related to the NRAO competition, interested parties should note that AST is exploring operational and management models for the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Long Baseline Array that could result in reduced costs to AST; for further details, see DCL NSF 13-074, dated March 22, 2013, available at the above URL. Although we have reached or passed the nominal deadlines for competition conferences that were given in the Dear Colleague Letters, NSF still welcomes inquiries and requests for competition conferences if they are made before the end of May, 2013; contact information for inquiries is given in the individual Letters.

Questions? Contact the author at [email protected]