NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space
National Science Foundation Fiscal 2003 Budget
May 22, 2002
The Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Science,
Technology, and Space held a hearing on May 22nd to
discuss NSF's FY03 budget request as well as general
federal research and development issues. Two panels
of witnesses presented testimony. Panel one included
Colwell, Director, NSF, and Dr. John Marburger,
Director, OSTP. Panel two included The
Honorable Newt Gingrich, CEO, The Gingrich Group;
John Podesta, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown
Law Center; Dr.
Alan I. Leshner, CEO, AAAS; Dr. Thomas McCoy,
VP of Research, Montana
State University; and Dr. Marsha R. Torr, VP of
In his opening remarks Subcommittee
Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) went on record in full
support a 15% increase for NSF and a doubling over
five years. Wyden stated that if Congress and the
Administration could accomplish this, "America's scientific
horizon would broaden immeasurably . . . [h]ighly
promising scientific research is not taking place
because the NSF simply can't fund it." Subcommittee
Ranking Member Senator George Allen (R-VA) said
continued innovative technology is key to a capable
and competent workforce, noting that 60% of future
jobs will require skills currently held by 20% of
Dr. Colwell outlined NSF's FY03 budget request, highlighting
the priority areas, initiatives, and facilities. Dr.
Marburger discussed the President's FY03 R&D budget
request. He discussed positive future outcomes of
investments in science and technology and examples
of the Administration's cross-cutting efforts in R&D.
He also advocated the agency scorecard approach as
a useful tool for science agencies.
Dr. Marburger was questioned about the need for balance
across disciplines in the federal R&D budget.
Marburger responded that Congress should not assume
the President is not concerned with balance, but rather
the Administration believes in setting priorities
and improving management. Dr. Colwell also addressed
the balance issue stating that all disciplines need
attention. By focusing the mathematical sciences in
this budget, NSF is targeting one field that will
benefit all disciplines . When asked about NSF's priorities
should the budget double, Dr. Colwell emphasized the
need for growth in core research areas; maintaining
leadership in information technology, nanotechnology,
biocomplexity; and improving the scientific and engineering
Mr. Gingrich stated that the crisis in math/science/engineering
education looms as large as any terrorist threat.
He considers education as a national security priority.
Gingrich advocates tripling the NSF budget and noted
that nanoscale research is as profound for the 21st
century as the theory of relativity was for the 20th.
This area alone, he felt, should receive a $1 billion
budget immediately, with 15% -20% yearly increases.
Mr. Podesta said it is important to consider how the
science and technology enterprise can contribute to
national security and economic growth. He advocated
doubling the NSF budget while providing balance among
disciplines, eliminating research earmarks, recreating
the Office of Technology Assessment (or contracting
the National Academy for analytic studies, as Mr.
Gingrich suggested), and supporting scientific freedom
and openness. Dr. Leshner discussed advances in the
physical sciences and benefits to the economy. He
said balance and strong support over the entire science
enterprise is critical to the future. The current
trend is an increase in life sciences while other
sciences remain flat or declining. He said we cannot
afford a "taking turns" approach to science funding.
A lag in one area leads to a lag in others.
Dr. McCoy stated that any doubling scenario should
have a focus and EPSCoR
should be part of that focus, noting that EPSCoR awakened
Montana State University (MSU) to the importance of
R&D. He discussed the tremendous growth in research
areas at MSU and the integration of research and teaching.
He noted that a major obstacle for many "less research
intensive" states and institutions is a lack of infrastructure
and emphasized the importance of fully funding NSF's
new EPSCoR infrastructure program. Dr. Torr noted
that Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is mostly
undergraduate and these students would not have the
same opportunities without federal research funding.
While mentioning VCU's health sciences activities,
she stated that VCU cannot rely on life sciences alone.
The contribution of physical scientists seasoned by
grants primarily from NSF is essential. She said funding
from NSF helps to shape universities.
When questioned about how to get elected officials
excited about science issues, Mr. Gingrich said scientists
have an obligation to make a case to Members of Congress
by describing the benefits of science that will directly
affect them. Mr. Podesta agreed, adding that putting
one or two pages of exciting science in the hands
of members on a weekly basis would be beneficial.
Mr. Gingrich later stated that Dr. Marburger should
send to members once a week the five most interesting
science topics and what support is needed. When asked
what a larger NSF could do, Dr. Leshner said NSF could
double every grant right away; that the opportunities
lost are tremendous, and we risk lagging behind other
nations in developing technology.