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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
Hearing on NSF

July 12, 2000

The National Science Foundation's 50th anniversary and the success it has enjoyed since its founding was a recurring theme during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on NSF on July 12. Senator James Jeffords, Chairman, opened the hearing with a brief history of the Foundation and made many laudatory comments about the programs NSF has supported over the years.

Director Rita Colwell emphasized that if NSF is to continue to meet the challenges of providing a solid research base for future technology development, it must have the resources to do so. The 17.3 percent budget increase the agency has requested is a first step in providing those resources. After outlining the four major initiatives in the FY 2001 budget request - Information Technology, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Biocomplexity and 21st Century Workforce - Colwell noted NSF's unique role in supporting basic research across all fields of science. Over half the requested increase for NSF would go to support these core basic research programs.

A second panel of witnesses focused on NSF's role in improving math and science education. The need for improving teacher training providing ongoing professional development was a recurring theme in the testimony. Dennis Bartels of the Exploratorium in San Francisco testified on the value of NSF supported science centers as resources for science teachers. He noted that the first two years of a teacher's career are a critical period in their eventual success, but a critical period in which they ware often working without a net. Science centers, experienced teachers, and bench scientists can often provide needed assistance during this period, but there is a more formal mechanism to provide technical and expert support would be beneficial.

The third panel emphasized the economic and societal benefits that result from the Federal investments in basic research. Dr. Charles Vest, President of MIT was joined by computer entrepreneur Steve Wallach, and EPSCoR Foundation head Joe Danek in discussing the wide array of outcomes from NSF-supported research and education - from research infrastructure development to graduate student training.

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