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NSF & Congress


Dr. Kelly

Dr. Eamon M. Kelly
National Science Board

Before the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on VA/HUD & Independent Agencies U.S. Senate
June 6, 2001

Madam Chair and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you. I am Eamon Kelly, Chairman of the National Science Board and President Emeritus and Professor in the Payson Center for International Development & Technology Transfer at Tulane University.

On behalf of the National Science Board, I thank the Subcommittee for its commitment to long-term investments in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Your support has enabled the scientific community to provide a broad base of research and education activities that have contributed to our Nation's well-being.

The National Science Board has two roles: it serves as the governing board of the National Science Foundation and, by law, it advises the President and Congress on national policy issues for science and engineering research and education.

I would like to begin by commenting on the National Science Foundation's FY 2002 budget request and then, in the second role, highlight some critical policy issues affecting the health of the science and engineering enterprise.

The National Science Foundation's Budget Request

First, in its role as governing board of the Foundation, the National Science Board has approved and endorses the National Science Foundation's budget request for Fiscal Year 2002. Adequate funding for the Foundation's priority areas in Fiscal Year 2002 will allow the National Science Foundation to do what it does best: nurture the people, ideas, and tools needed to generate new knowledge and new technologies. The National Science Foundation Director, Dr. Rita Colwell, will discuss the specifics of that budget request in her testimony. I commend my colleague for her far-sighted and energetic leadership of the broad scope of activities in the National Science Foundation's portfolio.

As this Committee recognizes, the National Science Foundation is a major contributor both to scientific research and science education.

Federal investment in the basic sciences through the Foundation have produced

  • New industries, such as E-commerce and biotechnology,
  • New medical technologies, such as MRI and genetic mapping,
  • New discoveries with great future promise in areas such as nanoscale science, cognitive neuroscience, and biocomplexity.

In addition, the National Science Foundation supports innovative education programs from kindergarten through graduate school, preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers and contributing to a more scientifically literate workforce and society.

The Health of the Science and Engineering Enterprise: Some Issues

As a policy advisory body, the National Science Board is also looking at the broader context for Federal investment in basic research and education. Critical issues that the Board has addressed recently in that capacity include research, education, and assessment on the environment; the U.S. role in international science and engineering; the quality of K-16 education; and the allocation of Federal resources for research.

We have begun two important new studies: one on the national science and engineering infrastructure and a second on national workforce policies. The latter study is examining the collection of policies and practices, including immigration and admission to higher education, that affect the composition and adequacy of our science and technology workforce.

   (a) Federal Investment in Science and Engineering

A basic element in maintaining the health of our science and engineering enterprise is public recognition of its importance. After the phenomenal 1990s, the public is increasingly aware that science and technology contribute to growth of the economy. Americans recognize that innovations improve the quality of life and that benefits accrue to the entire society, not just to a few industries or entrepreneurs.

The President affirmed the importance of science and technology on March 28, stating that "Science and technology have never been more essential to the defense of the nation and the health of our economy."

It has been said that future historians will label the 21st century the "science and technology century." Clearly we are on the edge of exciting discoveries and radically new technologies in many scientific fields. To turn this potential into reality requires substantial and sustained Federal investment in basic research.

The new knowledge and technologies emerging today are a tribute to Federal research investments made years ago in a spirit of bipartisanship. When those investments began, no one could foresee their future impact.

Revolutionary advances in these fields--such as those in information technology, geographic information systems, genetics, and medical technologies such as MRI, ultrasound, and digital mammography, to mention just a few--remind us that although science and engineering require long-term, high-risk investments, they also hold great promise of high payoffs. These payoffs affect all aspects of American life: our economy, the workforce, our educational systems, the environment, and our national security.

In a speech before the American Association for the Advancement of Science on May 3, Larry Lindsey stated that "the average annual real rate of return on corporate investment in America is about 9 percent." Compare that to a conservative estimate that the return on Federal investment in basic research is about 30 percent.

Despite the recognition of the widespread benefits that result from Federally supported scientific research, we are seriously under-investing in basic research. Of our $10 trillion Gross Domestic Product, the Federal government budgets $23.3 billion to basic research, which represents only two one-thousandths of one percent of the Nation's Gross Domestic Product. The President, members of Congress, and both the Republican and Democratic parties--even the media--speak in favor of investing in basic research. Support appears everywhere except in the budgets.

The recently issued report by the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, led by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, clearly states the importance and the current condition of scientific research and education to America's world leadership. I quote:

"Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in serious crisis.... If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century."

Achieving a balanced portfolio in the basic sciences is also important. As former NIH Director Harold Varmus and Congressional leaders have pointed out, the success of the National Institutes of Health's efforts to cure deadly diseases such as cancer depends heavily on the underpinning of basic research supported by the National Science Foundation.

In addition, Federal investment in the basic sciences is critical for the development of the science and engineering workforce on which our society and economy depend. The measure of our success will be not just the research we support but also the trained and talented workforce we develop. We need to produce more scientists and engineers, certainly, but even future workers who are not directly engaged in scientific endeavors will need to be scientifically literate to perform their tasks. And to be an informed voter will require a basic appreciation for scientific knowledge and method.

Today we are losing many of our best and brightest science students to other fields, and our record of attracting minorities and women to science and engineering is poor. The pool of potential science and engineering students will increasingly reflect the growing diversity in American society. Population trends indicate that by 2010 about two-thirds of students will be female or minority.

The level of Federal investment is key to the health of the science and engineering enterprise. But even if Federal investment were to increase substantially, the difficult issue of how to allocate the funds would remain.

    (b) Allocation of Federal Resources

For the past two years, at the request of Congress and the Office of Management and Budget, the Board has grappled with how the Federal government should set priorities and allocate its approximately $90 billion annual budget for defense and non-defense research and development. That question is critically important, given the growing opportunities for discovery and the inevitable limits on Federal spending.

On May 21 and 22, the Board's Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues, which I chair, hosted a stakeholders' symposium to discuss our findings to date and evaluate potential approaches to Federal budget coordination and priority setting. The symposium was highly productive, and we are in the process of incorporating the stakeholders' views into our report, which we will provide to the Subcommittee.

At this stage of our analysis, based on our discussion with Executive branch representatives and Congressional staff, the Board suggests that the Federal budget process in both the Executive branch and the Congress would benefit from instituting a continuing advisory mechanism for considering U.S. research needs and opportunities within the framework of the broad Federal research portfolio.

A possible process would include an evaluation of the current Federal portfolio for research in light of national goals and would draw on systematic, independent expert advice, studies of the costs and benefits of research investments, and analyses of available data. The process would identify areas ready to benefit from greater investment, address long-term needs and opportunities for Federal missions and responsibilities, and ensure world-class fundamental science and engineering capabilities.

In addition to an improved process, a strategy is needed to ensure commitment by departments, agencies, and programs to gather timely, accessible data that could be used to monitor and evaluate Federal investments. The Federal government would need to invest in the research necessary to build the intellectual infrastructure in the higher education sector (1) to analyze substantive effects on the economy and quality of life of Federal support for science and technology and (2) to improve methods for measuring returns on public investments in research.

The appropriate level of Federal investment and the allocation of Federal funds are keystone issues for the science and engineering enterprise. They are also extremely difficult, complex issues for policy makers.

Madam Chair, at this point I would like to close my formal remarks. I thank the Subcommittee for its long-time support of the science community, especially the National Science Foundation, and for allowing me to comment on critical national policy concerns, as well as on the Foundation's budget request. I look forward to future opportunities for discussion of these highly important national issues.


Eamon Michael Kelly was born in New York City and attended Columbia University from 1960 to 1965, where he earned the master and Ph.D. degrees in economics. Following graduation from Columbia, he joined the Penn State faculty at University Park, Pennsylvania.

In 1968, Kelly was appointed to U.S. government service by the President, serving as Director of Policy Formulation with the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was later named Special Assistant to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, where he participated in planning and initiating the federal government's first minority economic development program. Kelly joined the Ford Foundation in 1969 and served as Officer-in-Charge for the Office of Social Development, the Foundation's largest domestic and civil rights division.

In 1977, Kelly served as a special consultant to the U.S. House of Representatives where he participated in drafting legislation that provided a $1.7 billion guarantee to prevent the insolvency of New York City. Later that year he was appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. In that position, he successfully directed a government-wide investigation of the Teamster's $1.4 billion Central States Pension Fund and led negotiations resulting in the Fund being transferred to private management. After leaving the Labor Department, Kelly returned, at the request of the Secretary of Labor, to direct efforts that led to the end of a nationwide coal strike.

In 1981, he was chosen to serve as the 13th president of Tulane University. In July 1998, Kelly retired as president of the university. Currently, Kelly, whose area of specialized interest is international urban and rural development, holds the rank of professor in the departments of Economics, Latin American Studies, and International Health and Development at Tulane. He is also a founding member of the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer.

Kelly is active on the boards of many professional, philanthropic, civic, and corporate organizations. In 1995, he was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body of the National Science Foundation, which sponsors scientific and engineering research, develops and supports educational programs, and helps guide national policy. In 1998, Kelly was elected chairman of the NSB. He was reelected chairman in 2000.