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NSF Congressional Highlight

Bement Presents NSF Budget at House Committee on Science Hearing

February 16, 2005

On Wednesday, February 16, 2005, Dr. Arden Bement, Jr., director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) testified before the House Committee on Science regarding the Administration's FY 2006 Budget Request for the agency. Entitled "An Overview of the Federal R&D Budget for Fiscal Year 2006," the hearing centered on overall funding levels for federal research and development (R&D) as well as the sense of balance it imparts on competing national priorities. In particular, the Committee questioned the effects of "unarguably quite tight" funding on the U.S. research agenda, on U.S. leadership in science and technology, and on the production of future U.S. scientists and engineers.

Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened the hearing by emphasizing the significant role that R&D plays in the American economy and beyond. Boehlert expressed concern, however, regarding the balance of spending between defense versus civilian R&D. Consistent with the President's overall budget priorities, the request for R&D focuses on homeland security and defense spending while limiting the growth in overall spending.

Dr. John H. Marburger III, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, led the witness panel discussing the overall federal R&D budget as well as specifics regarding NSF's request. "Similar [R&D] investments in the past have yielded important scientific discoveries, which boost economic growth and enhance Americans' quality of life," said Marburger. "NSF leads two Administration priority research areas that promise to strengthen the nation's economy: the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the Networking and Information Technology R&D Program (NITRD)."

Marburger highlighted NSF's support of nanotechnology research and how it has advanced our understanding of materials at the molecular level. He heralded the promise of this emerging field to deliver a broad range of developing technologies, including higher-performance materials, more efficient manufacturing processes, higher-capacity computer storage, and microscopic biomedical instruments and mechanisms.

Bement concurred with these sentiments in his NSF-centered testimony that followed, offering yet more specifics on the agency's request and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. Bement stated, "America's sustained economic prosperity is based on technological innovation made possible, in large part, by fundamental science and engineering research. Innovation and technology are the engines of the American economy, and advances in science and engineering provide the fuel. The Foundation's FY 2006 Budget Request reflects the Administration's confidence in our continuing with this mission."

For the coming fiscal year, the NSF Budget Request is $5.6 billion, an increase of $132 million, or 2.4%, over FY 2005 appropriated levels. The four funding priorities centering the request are designed to address current national challenges and strengthen NSF's core research investments. These priorities include: (1) strengthening core disciplinary research; (2) providing broadly accessible cyberinfrastructure and world-class research facilities; (3) broadening participation in the science and engineering workforce; and (4) sustaining organizational excellence in NSF management practices.

Bement added, "This year's investments will strengthen the core disciplines that empower every step of the process from discovery at the frontier to the development of products, processes, and technologies that fuel the economy. NSF's focus on a clear set of priorities will help the nation meet new challenges and take advantage of promising opportunities, while at the same time spurring the growth and prosperity needed to secure the nation's long-term fiscal balance."

Several members of the House Science Committee expressed particular concern over the 12 percent cut to NSF's Education and Human Resources Account. Additionally, the drop in the Foundation's grant proposal success rate from 33 percent in FY 2000 to an estimated 20 percent in FY 2005 was cited.

Three Administration witnesses accompanied Marburger and Bement before the Committee: Dr. Samuel W. Bodman, Secretary, Department of Energy; Mr. Theodore W. Kassinger, Deputy Secretary, Department of Commerce; and Dr. Charles E. McQueary, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Department of Homeland Security.

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