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NSF & Congress

Hearing on FY 2004 Appropriations

Dr. Washington

Dr. Warren Washington
National Science Board

Written Statement
Before the Committee on Appropriations
VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives

April 10, 2002

Chairman Walsh, Representative Mollohan, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to submit a statement for the record, 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 Committee for its long-term commitment to a broad portfolio of investments in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology research and education. These investments are important components of our Nation's security and economic strength and the well being of all Americans.

For more than 50 years, the National Science Foundation has been a major contributor to innovative science and engineering research and education. The Congress recognized these valuable contributions through the passage of the 5-year reauthorization bill last year, with steady and substantial increases in authorized budgets for the agency. This recognition is greatly appreciated.

The National Science Board approved and supports the National Science Foundation's budget submission for FY 2004. We assure you that the $5.48 billion will be well spent. We fully support the Foundation's investment in the six priority areas of biocomplexity, information technology, nanoscale science and engineering, mathematical sciences, human and social dynamics, and the 21st century workforce. These areas hold exceptional promise for new discoveries, educational opportunities, and practical applications.

The Board also believes it is crucial to maintain a strong portfolio of investments in the core disciplines. The increased funds received for FY 2003 will strengthen the core research and education programs. The Foundation's FY 2004 budget request recognizes the need to increase funding to the physical sciences and includes a 12.7 percent increase for physics, chemistry, mathematics, and materials research.

It is crucial that, as the Foundation's research portfolio increases, the funds for award administration increase sufficiently to maintain effective and efficient NSF management of the portfolio.

Since 1950, the partnership explicitly spelled out in the founding documents between the National Science Board and the Foundation's Director has worked extremely well, and the Nation's science and engineering research and education have flourished. Although recent legislation has altered some administrative aspects of our partnership, I can assure you that we continue to work together effectively and that the Board remains fully engaged in its policy-making and oversight responsibilities for the agency. The full Board sets Foundation policy after detailed consideration of recommendations made by its committees. These standing bodies deliberate with great thoroughness and thoughtfulness about the numerous programmatic and managerial issues facing the agency.

  • Our Committee on Programs and Plans is responsible for program initiatives and major new projects and facilities, proposed awards, and major program implementation issues (in all fields except those pertaining to education and human resources).

  • Our Education and Human Resources Committee addresses matters dealing with education and training and the technical workforce.

  • Our Audit and Oversight Committee is responsible for administrative processes and systems and also serves as the supervisor of the Inspector General.

  • Our Committee on Strategy and Budget examines strategic budget matters and identifies long-term issues critical to the Foundation's future.

This last committee, the Committee on Strategy and Budget, was established in May 2001 to strengthen the Board's role in the Foundation's strategic budget process. The Committee identifies long-term issues that are critical to the Foundation's future and analyzes strategic and operating budgets to ensure progress toward strategic directions set by the Board. The Committee has worked with other Board members and Foundation staff on strategic issues such as management of the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) Account, support for the core disciplines, and the size and duration of graduate student and postdoctoral stipends.

I would like to bring you up to date on the Board's involvement in setting priorities for funding projects through the MREFC Account and, at the same time, illustrate the effectiveness of the Committee on Strategy and Budget.

First, let me state that the Board continues to approve each project to be funded from the MREFC Account before the funds are obligated. Our Committee on Programs and Plans thoroughly reviews any proposed MREFC funding and brings recommendations to the full Board. There is ample opportunity for Board members to raise concerns before a vote is taken.

Throughout 2002, the Committee on Strategy and Budget discussed how best to accommodate within future budgets the initiation of new major research facilities that the community and Foundation identified as important to the advancement of science and engineering. In August the Committee, in collaboration with the Committee on Programs and Plans, set up a joint working group to determine whether changes to existing Board guidance on priority setting might be appropriate. Policy options developed by the group were discussed in October 2002 by the Board's Committee on Strategy and Budget and Committee on Programs and Plans.

In November 2002, the two committees brought a proposed resolution to the Board, the Resolution on Guidelines for Setting Priority for Major Research Facilities (NSB-02-189), and it was approved by the full Board. (A copy of the resolution with revised guidelines is attached.) We are working closely with Foundation management as the Large Facility Projects Management and Oversight Plan is implemented. We are pleased to see that a Deputy Director for Large Facility Projects has been hired, and we expect that he will report to the Board on a regular basis.

The Board's Major Research Facilities guidelines state that when considering a project for approval, the Board will review the need for such a facility, the research that will be enabled, readiness of plans for construction and operation, construction budget estimates, and operations budget estimates. The Board then establishes a priority order for facility construction projects, based on these guidelines:

  • Highest priority is given to projects already under construction, as long as progress is appropriate.

  • New candidate projects are considered from the point of view of broadly serving the many disciplines supported by the Foundation.

  • Multiple projects for a single discipline, or for closely related disciplines, are ordered based on a judgment of the contribution that they will make toward the advancement of research in those related fields. Community judgment is considered.

  • Projects are authorized close to the time that funding requests are expected to be made.

  • International and interagency commitments are considered in setting priorities among projects.

Let me comment on some other Board actions. We are currently in the process of selecting an Executive Officer. After conducting a national search for candidates, a short list has been developed for further consideration. References are being checked in preparation for interviews. Our intent is to complete the selection process soon after our May Board meeting. Once an Executive Officer has been selected, I plan to address other staffing issues so that we may be fully responsive to the interests of Congress in exercising our policy-making responsibilities.

The NSF Authorization Act expanded the Board's activities covered by the Government in the Sunshine Act. I am pleased to report that all Board committee, subcommittee, and task force meetings, as well as the full Board meetings, are now open to the public except for those very few portions that fall under the exceptions stated in the Sunshine Act. These procedures were in effect for our February and March meetings. While we continue to refine our processes, the new openness of our deliberations has been embraced by Board members and well received by the press and other members of the public.

The Foundation's FY 2003 Appropriations Act provided a separate budget of $3.5 million for Board operations and activities in this fiscal year, and the accompanying conference report requested budget justification materials in support of the National Science Board's FY 2004 funding requirements. I want to take this opportunity to report our progress on these matters.

We are working through the many details related to allocating this first-time appropriation for FY 2003. We have prepared operating plans that enable the Board to allocate its expenses for the current fiscal year against that appropriation.

On the matter of a FY 2004 budget, the Board's first meeting since the appropriation bill was signed took place in early March, only a short time after the bill was signed. Therefore, there was limited opportunity for members to discuss the full range of options this legislation presents for FY 2004. However, it is my intent to prepare budget justification materials for FY 2004 as requested in the conference report. Our next meeting is scheduled for May, and I have scheduled time for a thorough and thoughtful discussion of those issues with the full Board. On behalf of the Board, I appreciate your understanding our interest in taking the time necessary to properly address these important questions. I will inform you of our plans as soon as possible following the meeting.

Consistent with our role as national policy adviser, the Board is nearing completion of two policy reports. Our Task Force on Science and Engineering Infrastructure has assessed the status, changing needs, and strategies to ensure that the Nation will have the science and engineering infrastructure to enable new discoveries in the future. The Board's final report with policy recommendations is being prepared for release on April 9. We made an extensive effort to seek public comment on the draft report, and we will conduct a broad-based outreach effort to engage a wide range of stakeholders in follow-up on those critical recommendations.

Another Board task force, the Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering, has been working diligently on U.S. science and engineering workforce needs and national policy options for ensuring a skilled workforce in the future. We anticipate that the draft report will be available for public comment in a couple of months. Your views would be especially valuable to us.

One final comment concerning Board policy reports: we want these documents to have the maximum possible impact on national science and engineering research and education issues. To that end, we are examining new and better ways to engage members of Congress, Administration officials, and the community in a continuing dialog on these critical topics. I will keep you fully informed as these efforts evolve.

Mr. Chairman, at this point I would like to end my formal remarks. I thank the Committee for its strong and sustained support of the science and engineering enterprise, especially the National Science Foundation. I thank you for the opportunity to testify on Federal budget issues and recent administrative changes as well as the Board's national policy activities. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have or to provide additional information for the record. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Attachments: NSB-02-189 and NSB-02-191