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NSF is expanding its Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) — and working to quell the perception that TIP’s new funding would otherwise have gone to existing directorates.
By Mitch Ambrose | May 11, 2023
Credit: National Science Foundation
Erwin Gianchandani, the inaugural director of NSF’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP), speaks at the agency’s first ever Industry Partnership Summit on April 27.
The National Science Foundation has decided to use about half of the $1 billion budget increase it received from Congress for fiscal year 2023 to build out its new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). TIP — NSF’s first new directorate in more than 30 years — expands the agency’s role in supporting “use-inspired” research and technology development, an area of interest for Congress.
The NSF’s existing directorates are mostly divided by discipline — computer science or math, for example. TIP is different, organized instead around efforts to increase entrepreneurship, public-private partnership, and technological advancement across directorates. In other words, TIP aims to beef up NSF innovation.
When NSF created TIP last March, it funded the directorate with around $400 million pulled from elsewhere in NSF, like the Small Business Innovation Research program. Congress then formally authorized TIP through the landmark CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which gave TIP a target budget of $1.5 billion for 2023, out of a recommended NSF budget of $11.9 billion. Ultimately, Congress fell short of those targets: It gave NSF almost $9.9 billion, and the agency has decided to allocate about $880 million to TIP — less than CHIPS Act ambitions, but still a hefty amount that effectively doubles TIP’s budget.
Other NSF research directorates, meanwhile, received relatively small increases in the latest budget cycles. For instance, the Math and Physical Sciences (MPS) Directorate budget is growing 4% to $1.7 billion — leading some scientists to raise concerns that TIP’s growth may be squeezing other NSF programs.
“Even if you look at the budget increases that have been received to the core programs … it actually feels like you're going backwards, because they aren't keeping up with the financial reality that we're in with 7%, 8%, 9% inflation rates,” said Edward Thomas Jr., a physics professor at Auburn University, at the April meeting of MPS’s advisory committee.
“There still is a lot of concern at the PI level [that] … the creation of TIP is putting a lot of stress, and the core programs aren't actually growing at the same kind of paces to keep up,” he added.
But MPS head Sean Jones stressed that TIP is supposed to work in tandem with existing programs, speeding up progress on ideas coming out of other directorates, like MPS. NSF Budget Director Caitlyn Fife said at the advisory committee meeting that part of TIP’s budget is “going to support basic research activities back in the [other] directorates.”
Other NSF staff reiterated TIP’s popularity on Capitol Hill. Amanda Greenwell, who heads NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, noted that TIP’s creation has broadened the NSF’s base of supporters in Congress, saying that lawmakers beyond the “usual suspects” advocated for the agency in the push to pass the CHIPS and Science Act.
“We need to know where the pain points are and be able to talk about the tradeoffs and other issues, but we have a huge opportunity that we haven't had before,” she said. “We are on the radar now.”
And TIP’s growth is poised to continue. Fife noted that NSF is seeking to increase the directorate’s budget by 35% to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2024, which would make it similar in size to the directorate for computer sciences and engineering.
“We're maturing it to be a full directorate, to be fair,” she said, “because that's what we've set out to do.”
Mitch Ambrose is Director of FYI. Published by the American Institute of Physics since 1989, FYI is a trusted source of science policy news. Sign up for free emails at aip.org/fyi.
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