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NSF & Congress
Testimony

Dr. Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
Director
National Science Foundation

Testimony
Before the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation
Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness

April 19, 2007

Chairman Kerry, Ranking Member Ensign, and members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the importance of basic research. It is a pleasure to appear before you again on this important topic. I would like to thank the Members of this Committee for their support for NSF over the years and specifically for your support for NSF in the 2007 Continuing Resolution, the 2008 budget and the America COMPETES legislation.

I am especially pleased to emphasize once again the role the National Science Foundation (NSF) plays in sustaining America's competitiveness in the global economy. As you are well aware, the President's request for NSF represents an 8.7% increase over the appropriated levels, and will keep NSF on the course set by the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) to drive innovation and sharpen America's competitive edge. This year's budget reinforces the Administrationís firm commitment to doubling overall funding for the NSF, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Commerceís National Institute of Standards and Technology labs over the next 10 years.

For over fifty years, NSF has been a steward of the nationís science and engineering enterprise, with a track record of producing results. NSF investments in discovery, learning, and innovation have been important to increasing Americaís economic strength, global competitiveness, national security and overall quality of life.

Despite its relatively small size, NSF has an important impact on scientific and engineering knowledge and academic capacity. While NSF represents only four percent of the total federal budget for research and development, it accounts for fifty percent of non-life science basic research at academic institutions. In fact, NSF is the only federal agency that supports all fields of basic science and engineering research.

NSF relies on a merit-based, competitive process that is critical to fostering the highest standards of excellence and accountability--standards for which NSF is known all over the world.

We provide funding to the best of the best. Of the 513 individuals who have received the Nobel Prize since NSF first awarded research grants in 1952, 174 or 34% received NSF funding at some point in their careers.

NSF-funded research has led to social benefits. Examples include Doppler radar, MRI scans, nanotechnology, the Internet, web browsers, search engines, bar codes, and computer-aided design systems. NSF investments have played an important role in American competitiveness and innovation. The economic returns from these technologies alone have added hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy over the past 15 years.

As you well know, investments in fundamental research often yield unexpected benefits. One example I like to use is NSFís support of abstract auction theory and experimental economics. NSF-supported researchers provided the FCC with its current system for apportioning the airwaves. Since their inception in 1994, FCC "spectrum auctions" have netted over $45 billion in revenue for the federal government and more than $200 billion in worldwide revenues. Although the payoff was unexpected at the time NSF started supporting game-theory research, the payoff is many times greater than the total investment NSF has made in social and behavior sciences over our fifty year history.

In our efforts to advance the frontiers of knowledge and spur innovation, NSF also aims to develop of the nation's talent pool and create a highly skilled workforce. This may be NSFís most profound, and lasting, impact.

Perhaps even more important than the breakthroughs I have described above, are the students that have been educated and trained along the way, including as participants in prize-winning research. The scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians trained through the integration of research and education transfer new scientific and engineering concepts from universities directly to the entrepreneurial sector as they enter the workforce. This capability is a strong suit in U.S. competitiveness, and one of NSFís greatest contributions to the nation's innovation system.

Opportunities to advance the frontiers of research and education are more promising than ever before--across every field of science, mathematics and engineering. No matter what field of science one chooses--from studying the smallest particles of matter, to exploring the formation of the cosmos, to understanding dynamic interactions among humans or unraveling the complexity of life on earth--ground-breaking research is on the horizon. The NSF budget for FY2008 sets an ambitious agenda for capitalizing on this potential to discover new knowledge that can help boost the nationís economic vitality and improve our quality of life.

NSF's commitment to the science and engineering enterprise comes from an enduring belief that knowledge is a powerful force for progress. NSF works at the frontier of knowledge where high-risk, high-reward research can lay the foundation for revolutionary technologies and tackle complex societal problems.

Quite simply, our investments in fundamental research and education improve the quality of people's lives and contribute significantly to our nation's prosperity. The NSF budget for 2008 reflects this vital agenda, and Iím pleased to present it to you today.

Let me begin with the numbers. Overall, in his FY 2008 Budget Request, the President is requesting $6.43 billion dollars for the NSF. That's an increase of nearly $513 million, or 8.7 percent above the 2007 appropriated amounts. Funding at this level in FY 2008 will keep us on the course set by the President's American Competitiveness Initiative. The ACI aims to expand federal research investments over the next ten years to drive innovation and sharpen America's competitive edge. Our task in this ambitious undertaking is to energize the nationís leadership in fundamental research and education that keeps America at the leading edge of innovation.

Funding levels increase for every major NSF appropriations account. Investments in Research and Related Activities increase by 7.7 percent, and our Education and Human Resources account by 7.5 percent. Rapid progress in these areas will generate new concepts and tools with far-reaching applications, lay the foundations for next-generation tools and technologies, and develop educational strategies to engage students and prepare them for the fast-changing, global environment. The budget includes increases for every Directorate and Office of NSF.

Our budget priorities for 2008 are based on the long-term investment strategies identified in the new NSF Strategic Plan. They are focused squarely on the future.

Discovery Research for Innovation

The first priority is Discovery Research for Innovation. In nearly every field of science and engineering, we are moving toward new knowledge that will contribute to the resolution of some of society's most stubborn problems--in areas such as energy, security, health and the environment. And we are on the threshold of technological innovations that will power the economy well into the future.

Today, the most fertile ground for discovery is often at the interface among disciplines, where insights from one field inform our understanding of another. To explore that territory, our strategy must be to keep all fields and disciplines of science and engineering healthy and strong. We continue to address that objective in 2008.

At the same time, we must be constantly alert to research that has the potential to overturn accepted paradigms and open entirely new fields for exploration. Below I will highlight several of these emerging frontiers. But it is important to note that the power of transformational research is ubiquitous today across the social, physical and life sciences, and engineering.

Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation

The power of new information and communications allows us to investigate phenomena of increasing complexity, scale and scope. But researchers are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the flood of data from improved observational tools, to assimilate different data formats and ontologies--atomic to the cosmic--and to find ways to store and archive petabyte-sized databases.

In 2008, NSF will invest $52 million in a new initiative we call Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation, or CDI. CDI will explore a new generation of computationally-based discovery concepts and tools at the intersection of the computational world and the physical and biological worlds.

In every discipline, we need new techniques that can help scientists and engineers uncover fresh knowledge from vast amounts of data generated by sensors, telescopes, satellites, or even the media and the Internet. Understanding complex interactions in systems ranging from living cells to binary star systems, or from computer networks to societies, also present challenges.

We need improved simulation and other dynamic modeling techniques to support experiments with complex systems--from earthquakes to brains--that are not feasible to perform in the physical world.

Finally, virtual environments have the potential to enhance collaboration, education, and experimentation in ways that we are just beginning to explore. CDI educational research efforts will center on a combination of virtual environments and advanced cyberinfrastructure. CDI will tackle all of these challenging research problems.

Ocean Research Priorities Plan

Understanding the interactions between society and the oceans is of vital importance for ensuring a clean, healthy, stable, and productive ocean environment. The Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP) lays out, for the first time, a national effort to link ocean research to societal issues ranging from the stewardship of ocean resources to the oceanís role in climate.

A new NSF investment of $17 million will support fundamental research and technology development in four areas identified in the Plan as near-term priorities.

One area of investigation will look at the complex dynamics that control and regulate marine ecosystem processes--knowledge that is absolutely essential to improve the management of marine resources. A second explores variability of the Meridional Overturning Circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. This is one element of global ocean circulation that is responsible for long-term climate variations along the Eastern Seaboard. Research will also address the response of coastal ecosystems to events ranging from non-point source pollution to hurricanes.

A fourth priority is the development of new marine sensors. This is also an important objective of the Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). OOI--together with other observatories such as NEON, NEES, and GEON Ė will make an important contribution to GEOSS--the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). This research complements a much more extensive, ongoing program of ocean research and education at NSF.

National Nanotechnology Initiative

Nanotechnology is an emerging field of immense promise, with ramifications for manufacturing, medicine, and next-generation computing. With the promise of nanotechnology, we can anticipate systematic programs to identify or design a broad spectrum of materials with just the right properties for the application in mind.

We are increasing our investment in the interagency National Nanotechnology Initiative by nearly $17 million, to a total of $390 million, to support fundamental nanoscale research and the development of nanomaterials.

A critical focus of this investment will be a new multidisciplinary effort to better understand the environmental, health, and safety impacts of nanomaterials. This research will explore the interactions between nano particles and materials and the living world at all scales. The development of innovative methods and tools to detect, characterize, and monitor nano materials in the environment, is an important feature of these activities.

International Science and Engineering

International partnerships are now an abiding feature of the global science and engineering landscape. U.S. scientists and engineers must remain connected with researchers around the globe to detect movements at the frontier and capitalize on new concepts. This is essential if we wish to be the first nation of choice for scientists, engineers, and students from abroad.

Moreover, in this era of globalization, international experience is fast becoming an essential element in the training of U.S. undergraduate and graduate students.

NSF will support agency-wide activities to expand international partnership opportunities for U.S. scientists, engineers and students, with an increase of nearly 11 percent for the Office of International Science and Engineering, for a total of $45 million.

Preparing the Workforce for the 21st Century

Creating a strong science and engineering workforce for the future is vital to maintaining the Nationís competitive edge. NSF will continue to fund a portfolio of highly successful programs.

You will recognize all of them: CAREER, aimed at junior faculty; Advanced Technological Education (ATE) to train skilled techicians and technologists; Broadening Participation in Computing, designed to train the future IT workforce; Noyce Scholarships, which promote the development of a world-class math and science teaching corps; The STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) and the Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST), both of which aim to broaden participation of underrepresented groups and engage a broader spectrum of institutions, two objectives of vital importance to maintaining Americaís global competitiveness.

In coordination with the Department of Education, NSF will continue funding for the Math and Science Partnership program, aimed at improving K-12 science and math education and teaching. Although the 2008 Request for MSP remains at the FY 2007 level of $46.0 million, approximately $30 million will be available for new awards in 2008.

The budget request also includes funding for an additional 200 Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF). Together with other NSF graduate fellowship, that brings the total number of graduate students supported to about 5,375.

Transformational Facilities and Infrastructure

World-class tools and facilities are every bit as essential for discovery. Our strategy is to invest in tools that promise significant advances in a field and to make them widely available to a broad cross-section of investigators.

For FY 2008, NSF proposes one new start in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account (MREFC): Advanced LIGO (AdvLIGO), a gravitational wave observatory that will improve by a factor of 10 the sensitivity of current earth-based facilities. Observations made with this instrument could revolutionize the field of theoretical physics.

Scientific breakthroughs that are just over the horizon will require speeds and abilities that even todayís supercomputers cannot produce. The development of a petascale computing capability will continue to be an important priority for NSF. Our commitment to support cyberinfrastructure remains equally steadfast. These investments will optimize high-end computing and cyberinfrastructure for science and engineering applications--and contribute to the nationís competitiveness in many other ways.

Funding for the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program increases by about $24 million to a total of $114 million. In addition, we will raise the maximum level of funding within MRI from $2.0 million to $4.0 million. These funds support the design and acquisition of mid-size instruments that are every bit as essential as their big brothers.

International Polar Year (IPY)

As the lead agency supporting Polar research, NSF will provide U.S. leadership for IPY activities through support for an intense research and public education effort. The budget request includes nearly $59 million for these activities.

In the Polar Regions, we are discerning the outlines of environmental change, from sea ice extent, retreating glaciers, shifting patterns in flora and fauna, to environmental observations by Arctic natives. Such change Ė whether environmental, biological or social--has implications for the rest of the globe. Polar change ripples across the planet on a spectrum of time scales, through the atmosphere, oceans, and living systems.

We do not yet fully understand the causes of what we are observing. Now is the time to change this, for new tools make possible the needed observations and synthesis of knowledge. They range from satellites to ships to sensors, and from genomics to nanotechnology, information technology, and advances in remote and robotic technologies.

For these reasons, climate change research and environmental observations will be a major focus for NSF IPY activities. Much of this research will support the goals of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Because the scope and scale of climate change is global, U.S. scientists will collaborate with scientists from around the world.

Another IPY research effort will explore how life functions and survives in the extremes of the polar regions. A surprising diversity of life flourishes in the McMurdo dry valleys of Antarctica, for example. Research will focus on microorganisms at various scales, but will include a diversity of organisms. Research on humans in polar environments will advance our understanding of our species' place in the complexity of polar phenomena.

IPY offers an excellent opportunity for outreach and education to raise public understanding of science and engineering and NSF will continue to support such efforts.

Stewardship

Also among our 2008 priorities is Stewardship--our commitment to support excellence in science and engineering research and education by maintaining a capable and responsive organization. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the success of our post-award and pre-award oversight and merit review process depends entirely on our program officers and program directors. They all know that the optimal use of limited public funds relies on two conditions: Ensuring that research is aimed--and continuously re-aimed--at the frontiers of understanding; and certifying that every dollar goes to competitive, merit-reviewed, and time-limited awards with clear criteria for success. When these two conditions are met, the nation gets the most intellectual and economic leverage from its research investments.

Our 2008 Budget request would provide adequate funding for operations and award management (i.e., salaries and expenses), particularly in the information technology field, which is critical to the agency functioning as efficiently as possible. We need to maintain our investments in productivity-enhancing tools, including cybersecurity, and modernization of information technology as well as continue to provide post-award oversight. I applaud Members of this Committee for their support for full funding of our FY 2008 budget request.

NSF has just completed a new strategic plan for 2006-2011. As a direct result of the strategic planning process, NSF has established eight new multi-year objectives for stewardship. We will strengthen our traditional partnerships and develop new collaborations with other agencies and organizations. We will also expand efforts to broaden participation from underrepresented groups and institutions in all NSF activities.

NSF leads federal agencies in funding research and education activities based on competitive merit review, with over 88 percent of its research and education funding going to awards selected through a competitive merit review process. Improving the transparency, consistency, and uniformity of the merit review process is a priority for 2008 and into the future.

An objective for 2008 is establishing the Research.gov portal site Ė a one-stop website for grantees seeking federal funding. The portal will also help research agencies share grants management best practices as part of the Grants Management Line of Business.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, I've only touched upon some of the variety and richness of the NSF portfolio. NSF research and education efforts contribute greatly to the nationís innovation economy and help keep America at the forefront of science and engineering. At the same time, NSF supported researchers produce leading edge discoveries that serve society and spark the publicís curiosity and interest. Extraordinary discoveries coming from dozens of NSF programs and initiatives are enriching the entire science and engineering enterprise, and making education fun, exciting and achievement-oriented.

Scientists can now peer back in time to the early years of the universe, from its explosive formation to its dark ages, to its first stars and mini-galaxies. Seeing this far into the past is a remarkable feat of science and engineering creativity and imagination. It is imperative that we also use our knowledge to illuminate the future. The ultimate reason for the science and engineering enterprise is to put knowledge to work for the growth of the economy and the well being of society.

At the beginning of the 21st century, America has the world's best cadre of scientists and engineers. We have some of the finest academic institutions anywhere. And maybe most importantly, we have a half century of experience working to perfect what is commonly acknowledged as the most successful system for supporting research, coupled with educating our scientists and engineers.

As this century plays out, there will be an increasing number of competent players in the global competition for ideas, talent, and innovation. In this context, "globalization" is shorthand for a complex, permanent, and challenging environment that calls for sustainable, long-term responses, not just short-term fixes. The nation needs bold efforts, at the most demanding levels of creative enterprise, to sustain a leadership role in the global economy.

In these shifting sands, I believe that America can continue to be on the leading edge of ideas and research that can chart the global path for the next half century. We want our universities and businesses to continue leading the world in discovery and innovation. That means cultivating our strengths--U.S. leadership in fundamental discovery Ė including high-risk, high-reward transformational research--state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure, and a world-class S&E workforce. These strategies can help us reinvent American competitiveness in the 21st Century.

But make no mistake. Staying at the forefront of discovery and innovation will require sustained investments. In a science and technology based world, to retreat from the frontier is to put the nation at peril.

NSF is committed to cultivating a science and engineering enterprise that not only unlocks the mysteries of the universe but that addresses the challenges of America and the world. The National Science Foundation looks to the future with these important considerations in mind, and we have crafted our 2008 budget to address them.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I hope that this brief overview conveys to you the extent of NSF's commitment to advancing science and technology in the national interest. I look forward to working with you in months ahead, and would be happy to respond to any questions that you have.

 

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