NSF & Congress
Dr. Eamon M. Kelly
National Science Board
Before the Subcommittee on
VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Committee on
Appropriations U.S. House of Representatives
May 16, 2001
Chairman Walsh, Ranking Member Mollohan, and members
of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity
to testify before you. I am Eamon Kelly, Chairman
of the National Science Board and President Emeritus
and Professor in the Payson Center for International
Development & Technology Transfer at Tulane University.
On behalf of the National Science Board, I thank the
Subcommittee for its commitment to long-term investments
in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology.
Your support has enabled the scientific community
to provide a broad base of research and education
activities that have contributed to our Nation's well-being.
The public is increasingly aware that science and
technology contribute to growth of the economy after
the phenomenal 1990s. People seem to recognize that
innovations improve the quality of life and that benefits
accrue to the entire society, not just to a few industries
The President affirmed the importance of science and
technology on March 28, stating that "Science and
technology have never been more essential to the defense
of the nation and the health of our economy."
In agreement with the President's statement, I would
like to comment on the National Science Foundation's
FY 2002 budget request and then highlight some critical
policy issues affecting the health of the science
and engineering enterprise.
The National Science Foundation's
First, in its role as governing board of the Foundation,
the National Science Board has approved and supports
the National Science Foundation's budget request for
Fiscal Year 2002 and endorses the submission. Adequate
funding for the Foundation's priority areas in Fiscal
Year 2002 will allow the National Science Foundation
to do what it does best: provide the Nation with the
people, ideas, and tools needed to generate new knowledge
and new technologies. Dr. Rita Colwell will discuss
the specifics of that budget request in her testimony.
I commend my colleague for her far-sighted and energetic
leadership of the broad scope of activities in the
National Science Foundation's portfolio.
The Health of the Science and
Engineering Enterprise: Some Issues
I also want to touch briefly on the broader context
for the National Science Foundation's activities and
contributions. In addition to serving as the governing
board of the Foundation, the National Science Board,
by law, advises the President and Congress on science
and engineering policy, and is responsible for assessing
and making recommendations on national policy issues
for research and education. In that capacity, the
National Science Board has recently addressed and
issued recommendations on some critical issues affecting
U.S. science and engineering. These include research,
education, and assessment on the environment, the
U.S. role in international science and engineering,
and the quality of K-16 education.
Recently, we have begun two important new studies:
one on the national science and engineering infrastructure;
a second on national workforce policies. The latter
study is examining the collection of policies and
practices, including immigration and higher education,
that affect the composition and adequacy of our science
and technology workforce.
There is one Board effort to which I want to draw your
particular attention and to say a few extra words:
that is, the issue of the adequacy of our investment
in science and engineering and the process we use
within the Federal government for allocating resources
to research within the budget process.
Federal Investment in Science and Engineering
It has been said that future historians will label
the 21st century the "science and technology
century." Clearly we are on the edge of exciting discoveries
and radically new technologies in many scientific
fields. To turn this potential into reality requires
substantial and sustained Federal investment in basic
The new knowledge and technologies emerging today are
a tribute to Federal research investments made years
ago in a spirit of bipartisanship. When those investments
began, no one could foresee their future impact. Revolutionary
advances in these fields--such as those in information
technology, geographic information systems, genetics,
and medical technologies such as MRI, ultrasound,
and digital mammography, to mention just a few--remind
us that although science and engineering require long-term,
high-risk investments, they also hold great promise
of high payoffs. These payoffs affect all aspects
of American life: our economy, the workforce, our
educational systems, the environment, and our national
Despite the recognition of the widespread benefits
that result from Federally supported scientific research,
we are seriously under-investing in basic research.
Of our $10 trillion Gross Domestic Product, the Federal
government budgets $5 billion to basic research and
general science, which represents only five-ten thousandths
of one percent of the Nation's Gross Domestic Product.
The President, members of Congress, the Republican
and Democratic parties all speak in favor of investing
in basic research.
Balance among investments in the basic sciences through
the National Science Foundation and other agencies
is also important. As Congressional leaders have pointed
out, the success of the National Institutes of Health's
efforts to cure deadly diseases such as cancer depends
heavily on the underpinning basic research supported
by the National Science Foundation.
In a speech before AAAS on May 3, Larry Lindsey stated
that "the average annual real rate of return on corporate
investment in America is about 9 percent." Compare
that to the conservative estimate that the return
on Federal investment in basic research is about 30
The recently issued report by the U.S. Commission on
National Security for the 21st Century,
led by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, clearly states
the importance and the current condition of scientific
research and education to America's world leadership.
"Our systems of basic scientific research and education
are in serious crisis.... If we do not invest heavily
and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths,
America will be incapable of maintaining its global
position long into the 21st century."
As this Subcommittee recognizes, the National Science
Foundation is a major contributor both to scientific
research and science education. In fact, the Foundation
accounts for 54 percent of Federal funding for basic
research and general science.
Federal investment in the basic sciences through the
Foundation have produced
- New industries, such as E-commerce and biotechnology,
- New medical technologies, such as MRI and genetic
- New discoveries with great future promise, such
as nanoscale science, cognitive neuroscience,
In addition, the National Science Foundation supports
innovative education programs from kindergarten through
graduate school, educating the next generation of
scientists and engineers.
Clearly, there is an important link between Federal
investment in basic research through the National
Science Foundation, the vitality of our K-12 and higher
education systems in math and science, the talent
available for the workforce, and the successful achievement
of national goals.
of Federal Resources
Even if Federal investment were to increase substantially,
the difficult issue of how to allocate the funds would
remain. For the past two years, at the request of
national policy makers, the Board has grappled with
how the Federal government should set priorities and
allocate its approximately $84 billion annual budget
for defense and non-defense research and development.
That question is critically important, given the growing
opportunities for discovery and the inevitable limits
on Federal spending.
On May 21 and 22, the Board's Committee on Strategic
Science and Engineering Policy Issues, which I chair,
will host a stakeholder symposium to discuss our findings
to date and evaluate potential approaches to Federal
budget coordination and priority setting.
At this stage of our analysis, based on our discussion
with Executive branch representatives and Congressional
staff, the Board suggests that the Federal budget
process in both the Executive branch and the Congress
would benefit from instituting a continuing advisory
mechanism within both the White House and the Congress
for considering U.S. research needs and opportunities
within the framework of the broad Federal research
A possible process would include an evaluation of the
current Federal portfolio for research in light of
national goals and would draw on systematic, independent
expert advice, studies of the costs and benefits of
research investments, and analyses of available data.
The process would identify areas ready to benefit
from greater investment, address long-term needs and
opportunities for Federal missions and responsibilities,
and ensure world-class fundamental science and engineering
In addition to an improved process, a strategy is needed
to ensure commitment by departments, agencies and
programs to gather timely, accessible data that could
be used to monitor and evaluate Federal investments.
The Federal government would need to invest in the
research necessary to build the intellectual infrastructure
in the higher education sector (1) to analyze substantive
effects on the economy and quality of life of Federal
support for science and technology and (2) to improve
methods for measuring returns on public investments
The appropriate level of Federal investment and the
allocation of Federal funds are keystone issues for
the science and engineering enterprise. They are also
extremely difficult, complex issues for policy makers.
Mr. Chairman, at this point I would like to close my
formal remarks. I thank the Subcommittee for its long-time
support of the science community, especially the National
Science Foundation, and for allowing me to comment
on critical national policy concerns, as well as on
the Foundation's budget request. I look forward to
future opportunities for discussion of these highly
important national issues.