NSF & Congress
Summary: House Research Subcommittee
The NSF Budget: How Should We Determine Future Levels?
March 13, 2002
The House Science Committee's Research Subcommittee
held a hearing on March 13th, 2002, on how Congress
can best determine the appropriate funding level for
the National Science Foundation (NSF). Witnesses were
Director, Ph.D., Professor, Electrical Engineering
& Computer Science, and Dean of Engineering, University
of Michigan; Karen
S. Harpp Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department
of Geology, Colgate University; Irwin
Feller, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Pennsylvania
State University; and, Scott Donnelly, Senior Vice
President, Corporate Research and Development, General
Smith stated that NSF funding is a critical factor
in determining whether students pursue post-graduate
degrees in science and engineering, and is therefore
vital to the future of our economy. He noted that
it is hard to quantify the value of basic research
but its footsteps are everywhere in modern industry.
Member E.B. Johnson emphasized her efforts to
put NSF's budget on a doubling path with reauthorization
legislation she had introduced. All members agreed
with the critical role NSF plays in our economic development.
Throughout the hearing witnesses and committee members
referred to the need to correct the perceived imbalance
in funding between the broad range of disciplines
funded through NSF and the medical sciences funded
Dr. Director emphasized the key role NSF plays in the
development of many significant economic industries,
such as the internet, and NSF's key role in nano science
and technology. He noted that many medical breakthroughs
were made possible by NSF funded basic research, and
gave examples such as lasers for eye surgery that
grew out of basic research at the University of Michigan.
He stated that NSF must continue to support new areas
of study and increase funding for major research equipment.
He recommended that graduate stipends should be increased
to at least $25,000, and that NSF funding should,
at a minimum, track the growth rate provided for NIH.
Dr. Harpp gave a personal account of the impact that
NSF support has had on her research and teaching career.
Many of her students have gone on to teach or pursue
careers in research, and she directly attributes this
to her NSF CAREER award which provided an incentive
for her to teach innovative and hands-on classes.
She specifically noted the Course, Curriculum, and
Laboratory Improvement (CCLI); Major Research Instrumentation;
and the Research in Undergraduate Institutions programs
as playing a valuable role, particularly noting that
the CCLI program brings innovation to introductory
classes and a new perspective to science learning.
Dr. Feller offered three allocation criteria
intellectual excitement at the frontiers of knowledge;
contributions to national priorities; and capabilities
of American universities for research and education
as factors to use in allocating NSF's budget.
In addition, he proposed that programs should be evaluated
according to documented performance measures and through
the competitive, merit-based review of proposals.
He recommended a minimum increase of 8 to 10 percent
for the people and ideas portions of NSF's portfolio,
plus an unspecified amount of additional funds for
the tools component.
Mr. Donnelly discussed the importance of NSF from an
industrial perspective. He stressed the multidisciplinary
nature of industrial labs, adding that success in
any industry is a result of our university system
of research and education and it is important to invest
adequately across disciplines.
In response to questions from Members, all witnesses
stressed the need to increase grant size and duration,
as well as adequate funding for NSF. Merit review
was also echoed by witnesses as the most effective
way to set research priorities. Engineering Research
Centers (ERC) were mentioned several times by witnesses
as a good way to couple research at universities with
the needs of industry. ERCs were also noted as providing
quality outreach and diversity programs.
With respect to outreach, Dr. Harpp noted that the
public has a fundamental fear of science, and that
there is a need to demystify science. Mr. Donnelly
made the point that in order to get more public support
for NSF-funded research, the agency needs a mission
like landing a spacecraft on the moon, a cure for
cancer, or winning the cold war.
Boehlert, Chairman of the full Science Committee,
explained his mission statement as follows: "The mission
of the National Science Foundation is, and should
continue to be, to provide better jobs at higher pay
and a more robust research and development effort
leading to greater economic stability, national security,
and a world at peace." He also stated that all Science
Committee members would continue to be aggressive
in fighting for more money for NSF.
complete written testimony is available on the
House Science Committee website.