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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions National Science Foundation Fiscal 2003 Budget Request

June 19, 2002

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on June 19, 2002, to hear testimony on NSF's budget request for fiscal year 2003 focusing on math and science education programs in relation to future workforce needs. Witnesses included Dr. Rita Colwell, Director, National Science Foundation, former Senator John Glenn, and Keith Verner, Ph.D., Chief, Division of Developmental Pediatrics and Learning, Director, Center for Science and Health Education, Penn State College of Medicine.

Chairman Kennedy (D-MA) stated that similar efforts to doubling the NIH budget are needed for the physical sciences as well, noting that life sciences work will stagnate if the physical sciences are not supported. "We have an urgent need to begin today to interest young minds in math and science, and to recruit tomorrow's mathematicians and engineers," Kennedy said. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), members of the committee, are leading a bipartisan effort to double NSF's budget. Senator Bond said, "Not enough people understand the key role NSF plays in science education in this country."

Dr. Colwell discussed NSF's budget in brief, focusing her remarks on NSF programs to improve math and science education, such as the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, and how these programs are geared towards better preparing students for the workforce of the future.

Former Senator John Glenn outlined in detail how the U.S. has fallen behind in producing a workforce that can meet the demands associated with the challenges of innovation. He noted that since the Federal Government cannot adequately support K-12 education, NSF is one way to address this problem. As for doubling the NSF budget, he said "I'd say five times that." He also testified that, "Other nations are beginning to recognize what the goose was that laid the golden eggs for the United States, and they're emphasizing their math and science." He stressed that we will lose our technological edge if we do not rise up to meet this challenge and could compromise our national security. With 30% of math and science teachers leaving the profession in the first three years, and 50% in five years, Senator Glenn suggested three areas to address immediately: improving the present teacher workforce; increasing the number of teachers; and making the work environment more attractive and financially rewarding. Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT), also a member of the committee, was also expressed support for improving teacher compensation.

Dr. Verner noted that science is best taught with a hands-on approach, accomplished through collaboration with practicing scientists and educators. He stressed that NSF is an ideal champion for math and science education and must play a major role in implementing changes. He said NSF research helps maintain American leadership, and he emphatically recommended doubling or tripling the budget for MSP.

Senator Mikulski questioned Dr. Colwell on what the Foundation's priorities would be with a doubling of NSF's budget. Dr. Colwell noted that the Administration's priorities are fighting terrorism, protecting our homeland, and strengthening our economy. When questioned about funding opportunities lost under the current budget scenario with average grant sizes of $125,000, Dr. Colwell stated that this year NSF would only be able to fund roughly 9,000 proposals out of 32,000 submitted. She also noted a recently completed grant size and duration study recommending an average grant size of $200K to $300K per year and increasing the duration of awards up to five years.

Senator Kennedy expressed interest in the effective use of information technology. Dr. Colwell noted NSF's close working relationship with the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency before and especially since Sept. 11, is focused on better protection of personal information stating "we're committed to investing in IT software."

Senators and panelists all agreed that the Federal Government does not provide adequate support for math and science education and that as a nation, we are far too dependent on foreign talent to fill critical high technology jobs.

See also Dr. Colwell's testimony.