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NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: House Science Committee Hears Details of Bush's FY 02 Civilian R&D Budget

April 25, 2001

On Wednesday April 25, 2001, the House Science Committee convened a hearing on the proposed civilian R&D budget for FY 02. The witnesses were NSF Director Rita Colwell, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, Acting Director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science James Decker and NOAA Acting Administrator Scott Gudes. The hearing focused on the agencies' proposed budgets, interagency collaborations and investment priorities. Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) started the session by voicing his concern over the agencies' slim budgets--a sentiment that was echoed by nearly all of the members of the Committee.

In their opening statements the witnesses outlined their agencies' priorities as set in the President's FY 02 budget proposal. After thanking Boehlert and the Committee for their long-term support, Colwell noted that the $4.47 billion NSF request is 1.3 percent over last year's budget. Highlights include initiating math and science partnerships towards improving K-12 education, raising graduate fellowship stipends and an increased investment in interdisciplinary mathematics research. Furthermore, NSF bolsters funding in four priority areas; Biocomplexity in the Environment, IT research, Nanotechnology and Learning for the 21st Century. Colwell concluded by saying that "this budget lays the foundation for sustained increases over the long term."

The question and answer session started with all panelists agreeing on the power and effectiveness of interagency collaborations. Goldin emphasized the importance of informal, personal interactions to the success of any such effort. Throughout the session, nanotechnology was cited as an area of effective interagency cooperation. Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) suggested looking beyond federal agencies and including universities, industries and foreign countries in working collaborations.

Turning to NSF's Math and Science Partnerships Initiative (MSPI), Boehlert and Smith sought details on the redirection of $110 million to fund the $200 million program. Colwell explained that MSPI gives NSF the opportunity to examine our systemic education efforts, focus on the best practices and use them in this new program. Colwell also assured Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) that the new education effort would specifically seek to benefit women and underrepresented minorities.

Beyond education, NSF research programs also generated the interest of the Committee. Woolsey voiced her concern that a 1.3 percent increase might jeopardize the progress of science in Antarctica. Colwell replied that the NSF will maintain the momentum of Antarctic research and that the weather had been the biggest detriment towards updating the South Pole infrastructure. Rep. Constance Morella (R-MD) then asked about the blue ribbon panel exploring the idea of bringing NSF's astronomy programs to NASA. Goldin said that astronomy has been a fruitful area of collaboration between NASA and NSF and that it was the independent panel's job to decide any changes in jurisdiction. Finally, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) aired his support for NSF investments in the social sciences and the National Ecological Observatory Network project, which was absent from the FY 02 budget.

In closing Boehlert asked witnesses to detail their priorities for additional congressional appropriations. Colwell replied that NSF sees need in increasing stipends for postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, supporting mathematics research and increasing overall grant size and duration to maximize returns from the federal investment. Future NSF plans also include a focus on social, behavioral and economic sciences research. While Boehlert and colleagues pledged to rally Congress for increased funding for research and education, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) cautioned that smart decisions, effective collaborations and accountability must come hand in hand with any additional money.

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