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NSF Congressional Highlight

House Science Committee Hears NSF's Budget Request

April 23, 1998

In what will be his last appearance before the House Science Committee in his role as Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Neal Lane presented the agency's FY 1999 budget request to receptive members of the Basic Science Subcommittee. Dr. John Hopcroft, Cornell University, also testified in support of the budget in his role as a member of the National Science Board.

Chairman Chip Pickering (R-MS) opened the hearing with laudatory comments about Dr. Lane's tenure at NSF and support for the 10 percent increase (to $3.77 billion) that the agency has requested for FY 1999. He noted, however, that the administration's budget proposal assumes revenues from tobacco settlement legislation, a source of funds that is uncertain at best.

Priority setting for research was a topic of concern to many of the members of the subcommittee. Rep. Vern Ehlers' (R-MI) questioned previous efforts to coordinate research funding across Federal agencies and noted that a unitary research budget provides a target for budget cutters without any assurance of improving coordination across agencies. Dr. Lane outlined how NSF budgets were developed, but emphasized that agonizing over the proportion of the budget going to a specific discipline was less productive than supporting exciting research themes that cut across traditional disciplinary lines. This approach is reflected in NSF's emphasis on budgetary themes such as Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence, Life and Earth's Environment, and Educating for the Future. Dr. Hopcroft noted that within a given discipline, priorities are set by the peer review system. The National Science Board looks at priorities that are important to ensure the health of the nation's research infrastructure.

Dr. Lane responded to a question about the proposal to establish a National Institute for the Environment (NIE) within NSF by referring to a recently released report on that subject. He indicated that while it is important to increase the emphasis on environmental research, this can best be done by improving the coordination of research currently conducted at a variety of agencies. The National Science and Technology Council is the best mechanism to provide this coordination and an NIE within NSF would be duplicative and inefficient, Lane said.

Rep. Pickering inquired about the status of funding for the Next Generation Internet program, which has been held up by a lawsuit questioning the collection of intellectual infrastructure funds as part of domain name registration fees. Dr. Joe Bordgona, Acting Deputy Director of NSF, responded that $23 million in funds that had been appropriated by Congress were being withheld and that this would delay the planned connection of 40 to 50 universities to the high-speed internet backbone. NSF plans to appeal the ruling and is considering whether other ways of addressing this issue should be pursued.

Members of the subcommittee also expressed concern about the performance of US students on international measures of math and science performance. Dr. Lane noted that there was widespread concern over how to improve and sustain math and science achievement and that the NSF partnership with the Department of Education was an example of the administration's greater emphasis in this area.

The hearing concluded with a request from Rep. Pickering for NSF to expand its involvement in remote sensing, which is a research tool with untapped potential in many areas.

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