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Congress stuffs NIST's budget with hundreds of millions in earmarks

Data: House Appropriations Committee; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: House Appropriations Committee; Chart: Axios Visuals

Lawmakers requested $303 million in the National Institute for Standards and Technology's budget for projects in their districts, per an Axios analysis of the spending bill.

Why it matters: NIST's funding is coming up short even as the agency gets tasked with more work from both the CHIPS and Science Act and President Biden's AI executive order.

By the numbers: The spending package provides NIST with just $1.46 billion, a cut from $1.6 billion last year.

  • NIST requested $1.63 billion in funding for fiscal year 2024, and the CHIPS Act had authorized $1.65 billion.
  • Senators alone set aside $218 million in congressionally directed spending in NIST's budget accounts.

How it works: With earmarks, or "community project funding" requests, lawmakers direct funding within an appropriations program or account — like NIST's construction of research facilities account — to local projects.

  • Senate aides told Axios that the earmarked projects are for professional and academic research centers, new STEM equipment for universities, biopharmaceutical equipment and other programs.

Our thought bubble: These projects are external to NIST. Although some are tangential to the goals of the CHIPS and Science Act and the AI executive order, the agency that's helping spearhead federal efforts remains underfunded.

Context: NIST has a nearly $900 million deferred maintenance backlog, according to its FY24 budget submission to Congress.

  • Sources told Axios this week that it will be tough for NIST to carry out all of its assignments and congressional mandates with this budget cut, pointing to the "earmarked reductions" as especially hurtful across all of NIST's operations.

Axios' Tory Lysik contributed to this report.

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