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NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Focuses on NSF FY 02 Budget Request

June 6, 2001

On Wednesday June 6, 2001, the Senate VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee convened a hearing on the NSF FY 02 Budget Request. NSF Director Rita Colwell, National Science Board Chair Eamon Kelly, and NSF Inspector General Christine Boesz testified. Senator Barbara Mikulski, wielding the gavel as the new Subcommittee Chair, (D-MD) and Ranking Member Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) opened the session by affirming the bipartisan spirit of the subcommittee and their intent to double the NSF budget in five years. Both felt that the FY 02 request was inadequate, but cautioned that additional funding would require increased attention to management and oversight. This theme of accountability was also evident by Boesz's appearance, the first time an NSF Inspector General had been invited to testify at an appropriations hearing.

During her testimony, Colwell detailed the $4.47 billion FY 02 request-a 1.3% increase over last year. Kelly stressed the importance of sound investments in science and engineering for strengthening the American economy. In the concluding testimony, Boesz noted that the IG's office will be paying particular attention to basic award administration, management of large infrastructure projects, and cost sharing.

Mikulski started the questions session by criticizing the decrease in funding for research and asking Colwell, "Is this (budget) what you really wanted or what you got?" Colwell responded that this is a transition year budget and it provides increases in key areas, such as graduate student stipends, mathematics research, and the initiation of Math and Science Partnerships, part of President Bush's K-12 education plan. As Mikulski pressed on, Kelly added that the request substantially underfunds research, but both he and Colwell were dedicated to future budget increases. Mikulski was also concerned that the Math and Science Partnerships drew money away from other K-12 programs and was skeptical "it would really make a difference." Colwell assured her that the NSF would be implementing the best practices from previous programs and that partnering higher education with K-12 was a winning combination.

Bond's first comment was a call for clear-cut milestones to track progress as the NSF budget increases in the future. Colwell said advances in areas such as high-speed terascale computing, plant genomics, understanding the complexity of the environment, and nanotechnology were of high priority. Kelly added that increasing diversity in the science and engineering student population and workforce was essential to the nation. Bond then raised concern over the NSF merit review system, training high tech workers and a lack of nuclear engineering programs. He concluded by asserting that NSF should not solely focus on the top research institutions and criticized the flat funding for EPSCoR, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges programs. Colwell replied that NSF supports many small institutions, although Kelly noted that the current budget does not make things easy. Bond responded that "what the Administration has directed may be possible for the legislature to undirect."
 

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