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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary - NSF Director Testifies before Senate on Basic Research and U.S. Competitiveness

March 29, 2006

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., testified before the Senate Commerce Committee's Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness Subcommittee on the importance of basic research to the Nation's long-term economic development and global competitiveness.

When opening the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman John Ensign (R-NV) described basic research as 'the key to future U.S. innovation' and 'essential research for society.' He also noted the Federal government's critical role of catalyzing innovation by investing in basic research discoveries at their earliest stages.

"Over the past 25 years," he said, "basic research supported by the NSF in chemistry, physics, nanotechnology, semiconductor manufacturing, and other fields has brought about revolutionary technological advances. . . the World Wide Web, magnetic resonance imaging, bar codes, air bags, global positioning devices, and fiber optics technology all emerged through basic research projects that received NSF or other federal agency funding."

Dr. John Marburger, III, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, noted the Administration's commitment to non-defense research and development and pointed to this year's record $59 billion request for such as authentication. He also described the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), designed to assure the Nation's future technological leadership.

"The centerpiece of the American Competitiveness Initiative is the President's proposal to double, over ten years, funding for key agencies that sponsor basic research in the physical sciences and engineering that is likely to have high impact on future economic competitiveness," said Marburger.

In 2007, the ACI proposes overall funding increases of $910 million, or 9.3 percent, for NSF, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) core programs. Overall annual increases for these agencies will average roughly seven percent to achieve doubling in ten years.

Bement reiterated the larger rationale for the ACI in his testimony, noting that the initiative encompassed all of NSF's investments in research and education.

"For over fifty years, NSF has been charged with being a strong steward of the nation's scientific discovery and innovation process that has been crucial to increasing America's economic strength, global competitiveness, national security, and overall quality of life. . . Often the connection between an area of research, or even a particular scientific discovery, and an innovation may be far from obvious," commented Bement.

He cited the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology, the Doppler radar, the Internet, Google and bar codes as examples of NSF-funded results permeating our society. He also listed other recently funded, less well-known developments with equal promise, including the world's first ultrafast, ultra-accurate "laser scalpel;" a surgical assistant robot; a needle-free glucose-level test; an artificial retina; and a new, ultra-sensitive MEMS-based artificial cochlea.

In addition to supporting research and engineering breakthroughs, Bement also pointed to NSF's role in developing world-class scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians and the agency's strong coupling with industry and the private sector as significant innovation-drivers for the Nation.

Other witnesses at the hearing included Dr. William Jeffrey, Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology; Dr. Steven Knapp, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Leonard Pietrafesa, Chairman, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Independent Science Advisory Board; Mr. Philip Ritter, Senior Vice President and Manager of Public Affairs, Texas Instruments, Inc.; Dr. Adam Drobot, Chief Technology Officer, Telcordia, Inc.

The hearing was held on Wednesday, March 29, 2006, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

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