Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy
April 11, 2002
Thank you Howard [Howard Silver], and good afternoon
to all of you. I'm delighted to be here once again
to talk with you about the National Science Foundation.
I'll keep my remarks brief, because I hope we can
have a lively exchange about issues or questions that
are on your minds.
Spring in Washington is the crazy season. It's the
time when a young man's or woman's fancies turn to-not
love-but the Budget.
Spring is also the beginning of the baseball season,
and I'm reminded of one of Yogi Berra's famous comments.
It sums up the Washington budget season perfectly:
"It ain't over til it's over!"
With that wisdom in mind, let me begin by saying that
NSF is grateful to AAAS for convening this annual
colloquium on science and technology policy. This
is a unique opportunity for us to step back from the
fray and look at the big picture. From that perspective,
we're often able to see patterns just beginning to
coalesce out of the chaos of current issues. We might
say that we could see the forest without losing sight
of the trees.
Today, I'll sketch some of those patterns and say a
few words about how they link with NSF's current priorities.
Most of you are familiar by now with NSF's three strategic
goals: People, Ideas and Tools. They set our sights
on results at the heart of the research and education
enterprise: a world-class science and engineering
work force, the generation of new knowledge across
the frontiers of discovery, and the tools to get the
job done efficiently and effectively.
They also crystallize our thinking about what makes
the nation's science and engineering enterprise the
most innovative and productive in the world. And they
suggest touchstones to measure our progress as we
continue to build world leadership in the decades
Let me begin with "People". There can no longer be
any doubt that minds are as important as machines
for the nation's economic and social prosperity. That's
why building a highly skilled, diverse science and
engineering workforce is NSF's top priority.
Overall, the number of graduate degrees in science
and engineering fields is rising for the first time
in many years. That growth, however, is due largely
to an increase in foreign-born graduates. As other
countries beef up their science and technology programs,
more and more of these students will be returning
to their homelands. We will need to tap the entire
talent pool here in the U.S. to meet societal demand
for scientifically and technically trained workers.
We can make progress toward this end by identifying
and removing disincentives that deter even highly
motivated students. Pitifully low stipend levels are
a huge stumbling block. Increasing them for graduate
fellowship students to $25,000 is a beginning and
a top priority for NSF this year.
We will need to go further. The average size
of NSF grants has barely changed since the 1970's.
That puts significant constraints on funding for graduate
assistants and post-docs. The average NSF grant covers
three years, which is just not long enough for a student
to complete a Ph.D. program. The financial insecurity
many graduate students face is a strong deterrent,
and we're losing students because of it. NSF aims
to increase the average size and duration of grants
to alleviate this problem.
Increasing the number of scientists and engineers
is important, but by itself, it's not sufficient to
ensure our nation's continued leadership. We know
that cutting-edge science and engineering have changed
our times, but they have also changed with
the times. Today's students need a new set of skills
for this new era of exploration.
Let me fast-forward to an imagined snapshot of a future
workforce possessing these new capabilities. They
will adapt easily to rapid change, and tolerate increasing
They will venture into unfamiliar intellectual territory
often and with ease, crossing borders between disciplines,
or inventing whole new fields.
They will learn continuously over their lifetimes.
Dexterous collaborators, they will seek out and work
productively in a variety of partnerships-spanning
academe, industry, and government. They'll feel at
home working with anyone from anywhere in the world.
Above all, they'll possess a flair for imagination,
a knack for innovation, and a healthy appetite for
This workforce of the future will be drawn from the
nation's entire pool of talent, so it will
be more diverse than today's.
When we consider workforce issues, our biggest challenge
is to discover how we can engender these complex skills
in today's students, and how our institutions must
evolve to foster them. We need a robust knowledge
base on how people think and learn.
NSF aims to address this need through new Science of
Learning Centers. These Centers will build on a growing
national research competency in cognitive science.
And they will take advantage of integrated progress
made by teams-of psychologists, neuroscientists, computer
scientists, linguists, and engineers, to name just
a few-to build an integrated, multidisciplinary research
effort that will deepen our knowledge about how people
think and learn.
The results of this research could boost achievement
for every citizen, and produce a workforce
able to meet the challenges of rapid scientific and
Of course, we can't lose sight of the basics. To produce
a world-class workforce, we need to start early and
do a better job with K-through-12 science and math
education. NSF will continue to implement the President's
Math and Science Partnership initiative. The goal
is to provide all children with the higher levels
of math and science skills they will need to succeed
in the 21st century workforce, in consonance
with the President's desire that no child be left
I've already mentioned increasing grant size and duration.
This is as fundamental to generating new knowledge
as it is to ensuring a world-class science and engineering
workforce. Let me explore this briefly, because it
is central to NSF's second goal, "Ideas."
Today's climate for discovery is sizzling with potential.
We haven't seen the end of the knowledge explosion
in information technologies. The biosciences are on
an upward trajectory, and nanoscale science and engineering
is just beginning its take off.
The power of these new capabilities is immense. By
bringing together the fruits of research from many
fields, they give us new ways to tackle complex problems
that seemed beyond our grasp only a few years ago.
This integrative approach is both deeper and broader
than our past research efforts. It often calls for
innovative and wide-ranging collaborations, and for
programs that are high risk, but also high reward.
We will need to be alert to such emerging areas of
high promise, and be sure we have the funding levels
to foster them.
Mathematical science is such an opportunity, and it
will be a full-fledged priority area for NSF. Mathematics
is both the workhorse that pulls our research wagon
and the thoroughbred that speeds us to new discoveries.
An emphasis on the mathematical sciences can also
help us boost math literacy in our workforce.
We know that the interplay between knowledge, technology,
and our human actions and institutions is becoming
increasingly complex-and sometimes chaotic. September
11 is a tragic instance. NSF will seed a new priority
area in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
that brings new tools to the exploration of these
All of us recognize that programs of this nature need
continual nourishment from research in the core disciplines.
We know that fundamental progress in any field
may precipitate a revolution across the entire science
and engineering spectrum. NSF is committed to balanced
support for the core. In fact, a generic and strategic
reason for investment in priority areas is to bolster
the efforts of the disciplines to continuously refresh
Finally, we can't breech the frontiers of discovery
without the tools to take us into new terrain. The
need for widely shared and accessible databases and
tools is growing in step with the growth of our knowledge.
Over the coming years, we will need to make significant
investments in the sophisticated infrastructure necessary
to do world-class science and engineering.
Let me highlight one tool that puts this new way of
working into practice: distributed terascale computer-communications.
NSF has invested in terascale capability for several
years, but this year's budget takes the terascale
revolution a giant step forward.
The aim is to link the power and reach of terascale
computing and communications with disparate and heterogeneous
research tools and databases. The result will be a
seamless, distributed cyberinfrastructure for the
future. The emphasis is on comprehensive coverage
and pervasive access. This is a tool that can lead
to new applications, surprising synergies among databases,
cross-fertilization among disciplines, and much more.
I've barely skimmed the surface, but I'll conclude
now with a final thought. Each year at this time we
are preoccupied with the bottom line. It's also worth
asking ourselves every year if we're headed in the
right direction. I think we are.
Thank you. Now it's your turn!