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NSF & Congress


Dr. Washington

Dr. Warren Washington
National Science Board

Before the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies
Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations
U.S. Senate
May 15, 2002

Madame Chair, Ranking Member Bond, and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate having the opportunity to testify before you as Chair of the National Science Board. I am Warren Washington, Senior Scientist and Section Head of the Climate Change Research Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

On behalf of the National Science Board, I thank the Subcommittee for its sustained commitment to a broad portfolio of investments in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology research and education. These investments contribute to our Nation's long-term security and economic vitality and to the well being of all Americans.

The National Science Foundation's Budget Request

The National Science Board has approved and supports the National Science Foundation's budget request for fiscal year 2003. The 5 percent increase in funding will allow NSF to continue to nurture the people, ideas, and tools needed to generate new knowledge and new technologies. Among the important initiatives that this budget includes are priorities for the science and engineering workforce; mathematical and statistical science research that will advance interdisciplinary science and engineering; and research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences to explore the complex interactions between technology and society. The budget continues support for the Math and Science Partnership program; increases funding for the Foundation's six priority areas, which have the potential of enormous payoff for the Nation; and provides a much-needed increase in annual stipends for graduate fellows--a critical investment the future U.S. science and engineering workforce. The NSF Director, Dr. Rita Colwell, will discuss these and other specifics of the budget request in her testimony.

As this Committee recognizes, NSF is a major contributor both to scientific research and science education. Federal investments in the basic sciences through NSF have produced new discoveries and new technologies essential to our national security and economic prosperity. In addition, NSF supports innovative education programs from pre-kindergarten through graduate school, preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers and contributing to a more scientifically literate workforce and society.

Each year NSF evaluates, primarily through external peer review, 32,000 proposals from 2,000 colleges, universities, and institutions. The value of the proposals is approximately $16 billion. NSF annually makes 10,000 awards, totaling nearly $3 billion, in a highly competitive merit review process. It is estimated that NSF proposals representing an additional $5 billion are worthy of investment if the funds were available.

The Health of the Science and Engineering Enterprise

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 such as those in information technology, nanotechnology, materials, and biotechnology remind us that such breakthroughs with promising benefits to the economy, the workforce, our educational systems, and national security require long-term, high-risk investments.

Among Federal agencies, NSF has the unique mission of advancing the Nation's health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science and engineering. NSF plays a critical role in supporting new discoveries and knowledge as well as innovative educational programs at all levels. NSF-funded research and education are critical to sustaining U.S. strength in science and technology, a key element of national security.

Despite widespread recognition of the benefits that result from federally supported scientific research, as a Nation, we are seriously under-investing in basic research. In our $10 trillion Gross Domestic Product, the Federal Government budgets $24 billion to basic research, which represents one-fourth of one percent of the Nation's Gross Domestic Product. Of the $24 billion, NSF receives $3 billion to support cutting-edge science and the search for new knowledge.

Achieving a balanced portfolio in the basic sciences is as important as the quality and quantity of research funded. For example, as Congressional leaders and others have pointed out, the success of the National Institutes of Health's efforts to find cures for deadly diseases depends heavily on the underpinning of basic research supported by the National Science Foundation.

National Science Board Policy Studies

In addition to providing oversight to NSF, the Board provides advice to the President and the Congress on matters of science and engineering policy. I would like to mention some of our current activities related to major issues affecting the health of the science and engineering enterprise.

Federal Investment in Science and Engineering

The level of Federal investment is crucial to the health of the science and engineering enterprise. Equally crucial is how effectively that investment is made. The growing opportunities for discovery and the inevitable limits on Federal spending mean that hard choices must be made and priorities set.

In its recent report, Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities, the Board offers its recommendations for a more effective budget process, including an improved information base and a decision-making process for allocating Federal funding to research. The Board's conclusions are based on reviews of the literature on budget coordination and priority setting for public research and invited presentations from and discussions with representatives of the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Federal research and development agencies, congressional staff, high-level science officials from foreign governments, experts on data and methodologies, and spokespersons from industry, the National Academies, research communities, science policy community, and academe.

U.S. Government Role in International Science and Engineering

In the 21st century, advances in science and engineering will to a large measure determine economic growth, quality of life, and the health and security of our planet. The conduct, communication, and use of science are intrinsically global. New ideas and discoveries are emerging all over the world and the balance of expertise is shifting among countries. Collaborations and international partnerships contribute to addressing a broad range of international problems. They also contribute to building more stable relations among nations by creating a universal language and culture based on commonly accepted values of objectivity, sharing, integrity, and free inquiry. The Federal Government plays a significant role in promoting international science and engineering activities and supporting research with international dimensions.

In its recent report entitled Toward a More Effective Role for the U.S. Government in International Science and Engineering, the Board concludes that new approaches to the management and coordination of U.S. international science and engineering activities are needed if the United States is to maintain the long-term vitality of its science and engineering enterprise and the vitality of its economy. The Board recommends that the Federal Government (1) increase the effectiveness of its coordination of international science and engineering activities, (2) increase international cooperation in fundamental research and education, particularly with developing countries and by younger scientists and engineers; and (3) improve the use of science and engineering information in foreign policy deliberations and in dealing with global issues and problems.

U.S. Science and Engineering Infrastructure

An area of constant concern for NSF and the Board is the quality and adequacy of infrastructure to enable scientific discoveries in the future. The rapidly changing environment of new knowledge, new tools, and new information capabilities has created a demand for more complex and more costly facilities for scientific research.

A Board task force is assessing the current status, changing needs, and strategies needed to ensure that the Nation will have the infrastructure to sustain cutting-edge science and engineering research. We expect to receive the task force's preliminary findings this summer.

National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering

For U.S. leadership in science and engineering, there is no more important issue than the development of a skilled technical workforce. As a Nation, we are not attracting the numbers of science and engineering students our Nation needs to sustain its leadership. Nor are we successfully tapping all our domestic resources, especially under-represented minorities and women. The pool of potential science and engineering students will increasingly reflect the growing diversity in the American workforce and society.

A Board task force on workforce policies for science and engineering is reviewing U.S. workforce needs, the role of foreign students and workers, and policy options for ensuring an adequate science and engineering workforce for the future. We anticipate receiving the task force's report by the end of this year.

Madame 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 significant national policy concerns, as well as on the Foundation's budget request.