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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


At the
FY2016 NSF Budget Request Roll-out

Arlington, VA

February 2, 2015

[Slide #1: National Science Foundation]

Good afternoon, Colleagues and Guests. Welcome to the National Science Foundation.

Today marks an important day in the Foundation's planning for the future--the presentation of the Administration's Budget Request for NSF for Fiscal Year 2016.

In my 10 months as NSF Director and several prior years serving on the National Science Board, I have witnessed first-hand the tremendous work that the talented and dedicated people of NSF do and the innovative ways they work with our partners throughout the greater scientific community.

Some may take for granted the steady stream of NSF-funded breakthrough discoveries that have transformed the world, making all of our lives more enjoyable and productive. But we don't take those discoveries for granted. We know the many years of concentrated effort that are required to transform a moment of inspired thinking into a real world success.

For more than six decades, the National Science Foundation has been at the center of the innovation ecosystem that powers America's economic prosperity and national security.

We enable our Nation's fine best minds to realize their dreams, engaging the scientific curiosity of hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, researchers, educators and students across the country.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said, "21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development." The President's FY2016 Budget Request for NSF will allow us to continue our vital work and set the stage for profound scientific discoveries in the years ahead--discoveries that will fuel innovation and benefit the economy, our health, and our quality of life.

[Slide #2: NSF by the Numbers]

As the only Federal agency dedicated to the support of basic research and education in all fields of science and engineering, NSF fosters discoveries across a broad spectrum of scientific inquiry.

About 94 percent of NSF funding directly supports research, education, and related facilities -- meaning the vast majority of our budget goes back to states and localities through the grants and awards we make.

In FY 2014, we received about 48,000 proposals, from which our competitive merit review process resulted in funding about 11,000 awards. NSF's merit review process is widely regarded as the gold standard of scientific review and has been emulated in scientific communities around the world.

Proposals submitted to NSF are subjected to a rigorous evaluation process to ensure each proposal supported by the agency meets the highest standards in terms of intellectual merit and broader impact.

As a public agency, we must build and sustain trust for our mission through transparency and accountability. We are making substantial progress on what we have termed our transparency and accountability initiative, particularly in efforts to improve public understanding of our funding decisions through clearer research titles and abstracts.

All told, NSF provides 24 percent of total federal support of academic basic research in all science and engineering fields in the U.S. We expect some 2,000 U.S. colleges, universities, and other institutions to receive NSF funding.

Each year, NSF engages the talents of more than 300,000 researchers, postdoctoral fellows, trainees, teachers and students--sometimes as individuals, but also in teams, centers and major facilities--across many disciplines. The large number of Nobel Prizes and other significant honors that have gone to NSF grantees demonstrates that our processes have been able to identify the best ideas and most innovative thinkers, often years before they achieve broad recognition.

Because of our commitment to empower curiosity and drive discovery, NSF helps keep our nation at the very forefront of the world's science-and-engineering enterprise.

[Slide #3: The Big Picture]

The President's budget request for NSF calls for $7.72 billion, an increase of nearly $380 million--or 5.2 percent--over the FY 2015 appropriation.

This request reflects the President's vote of confidence in NSF's ability to make investments in learning and discovery that will grow our economy, sustain our global competitiveness, and enable America to remain the world leader in innovation. It embraces the challenge of ensuring that scientific discovery and technological breakthroughs remain the primary engines for expanding the frontiers of human knowledge. Specifically:

  • The request supports new approaches to research on understanding the brain, the food-energy-water nexus, and risk and resilience.
  • It promotes advanced manufacturing research, clean energy activities, and inter-disciplinary partnerships to enhance our economic competitiveness and create the jobs of tomorrow.
  • It sustains leading-edge investments in cybersecurity research and the tools needed to pursue opportunities embedded in big data.
  • And, it supports a range of investments in developing the workforce for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--or STEM--by continuing to inject new vision and commitment into efforts to broaden participation in STEM fields.

All these efforts uphold the essential approach NSF has pursued for more than 60 years: to invest in fundamental science and engineering research and education, and thus address the complex challenges facing the Nation.

[Slide #4: FY 2016 Budget Request]

The core elements of the budget request are shown here, allocated among the six major NSF accounts.

"Research and Related Activities" includes an increase of 4.3 percent over 2015.

"Education and Human Resources" is slated for the largest percentage increase in the budget, up 11.2 percent.

"Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction" is essentially flat.

"Agency Operations and Award Management" includes an increase of 9.2 percent--to $ 355 million.

[Slide #5: NSF Strategic Goals]

The NSF Budget Request's investment framework is based on the agency's Strategic Plan for FY 2014-2018, titled Investing in Science, Engineering, and Education for the Nation's Future.

The Plan establishes three goals:

  • Transform the Frontiers of Science and Engineering
  • Stimulate Innovation and Address Societal Needs, and
  • Excel as a Federal Science Agency

These goals build on lessons learned and continue to uphold NSF's mission, which is to promote the progress of science; advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and secure the national defense.

NSF's investment portfolio is rooted in these strategic goals. They inform both cross-Foundation investments and ongoing NSF-wide programs.

The Request continues the tradition of a thoughtful and strategic balance between core research activities both within and across disciplinary boundaries and activities that address emerging areas and clearly identified national priorities. Bolstering and advancing the types of core investments that have been central to the agency's past success reflects a wise stewardship of NSF's federal funding and ensures a strong return on taxpayer investment. In addition, specific investments identified for FY 2016 align NSF's portfolio with overarching challenges and opportunities facing the Nation.

This balanced approach ensures that NSF will continue to foster research that catalyzes the development of scientific discovery, promotes creation of new knowledge, and builds human capacity for the workforce of tomorrow.

Now I'd like to walk you through our portfolio. I'll begin by discussing our four cross-Foundation investments for FY 2016, followed by details about NSF-wide priority investments, and finish with updates on our major research facilities and agency operations accounts.

[Slide #6: Understanding the Brain]

The first of these priority investments is: "Understanding the Brain." NSF proposes to invest $144 million in research that will enable scientific understanding of the full complexity of the brain both in action and in context. This investment is a key component of NSF's commitment to the President's BRAIN Initiative.

The "Understanding the Brain" effort will involve:

  • developing innovative technologies, tools and instrumentation, computational infrastructure, theory, and models to understand the brain;
  • increasing understanding of relationships between neuronal activity, cognitive processes, and behavior;
  • exploring links between environment, behavior, and brain function;
  • and training the next generation of neuroscientists and neuroengineers.

NSF-funded researchers are using new imaging techniques to mark neurons with different fluorescent proteins, creating the image in the slide--which has been nicknamed a "brainbow."

We pursue this promising research because greater understanding of the brain will promote better brain health; enable engineered solutions that replace or compensate for lost function; increase the effectiveness of formal and informal educational approaches; and lead to smarter technologies that will enhance overall quality of life.

Basic research in these areas will also offer novel insights into how cognitive abilities develop and can be maintained and improved throughout people's lives.

[Slide #7: Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems]

Growing U.S. and global populations, extensive changes in land use, and increasing geographic and seasonal variability in precipitation patterns are placing ever-increasing stresses on the critical resources of food, energy and water. As the slide shows, we have seen this in recent years in the drought-parched regions of California and other Southwestern states, but critical challenges are emerging in virtually every region of our country.

The second priority investment--"Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems"--will fund interdisciplinary research to tackle these challenges. The investment--a total of $75 million--will allow us to better understand these interconnected forces and design and model solutions to address the variety of urgent natural, social, and human-built factors involved.

[Slide #8: Risk and Resilience]

The third priority investment is "Risk and Resilience." In 2016, NSF will invest $58 million to continue funding research that addresses the Nation's need for resilience in response to disasters, both natural and manmade.

One supporting program is Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes, a collaboration across the Foundation. This program addresses the need for resilient and sustainable infrastructure critical to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

The need for such research was dramatically demonstrated in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy devastated large swaths of coastal New York and New Jersey--and making it the second costliest storm in U.S. history. Scenes such as the one on this slide are becoming all too familiar.

[Slide #9: NSF INCLUDES]

We call the final priority investment NSF "INCLUDES." This acronym stands for "Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science."

"INCLUDES" is an integrated, national initiative to increase the preparation, participation, advancement, and potential contributions of those who have been traditionally underserved and/or underrepresented in the STEM enterprise.

Following wide community engagement in FY 2015, FY 2016 efforts will focus on the development of a set of new, scalable concepts that will provide focus for collaborative action.

Our investments are intended to produce rapid progress on changing the balance of diversity in science and engineering, have significant national impact for the participation of underrepresented groups, stimulate the community, forge new partnerships, and catalyze new approaches.

"INCLUDES" will build on and amplify NSF's current portfolio in broadening participation.

In this slide, an Arizona State University project named "CompuGirls" reaches girls aged 8-to-12 from under-resourced schools in the Greater Phoenix area. The girls develop technical skills and learn computational thinking. Here they are programming the actions of a human-like robot that helps autistic children improve learning of basic social skills.

[Slide #10: Clean Energy Technology]

The budget request includes a number of ongoing Foundation-wide programs that focus on addressing the most pressing challenges facing our Nation, now and in the future. NSF's clean energy investments support research and education in alternative energy for electricity (solar, wind, wave, geothermal) and fuels (chemical and biofuels).

NSF funding also addresses the collection, conversion, storage, and distribution of energy from diverse power sources, including smart grids; the science and engineering of energy materials; energy use; and energy efficiency.

Clean energy research addresses our advancement toward reliable and sustainable energy resources and systems that preserve essential ecosystems and environmental services, promote positive social and economic outcomes, and prepare society to responsibly adopt them.

For 2016, NSF proposes to invest $377 million in fundamental research that will lead to future clean energy and energy efficient technologies.

[Slide #11: Cyber-Enabled Materials, Manufacturing, and Smart Systems]

Cyber-Enabled Materials, Manufacturing and Smart Systems will receive $257 million in this budget. This investment aims to integrate a number of science and engineering activities across the Foundation, including breakthrough materials, advanced manufacturing, robotics and cyber-physical systems.

It will continue to leverage key interagency activities, including the Administration's Materials Genome Initiative, Advanced

Manufacturing Partnership, and the National Robotics Initiative.

NSF robotics research at the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University--shown in this slide--is exploring robots made from soft materials, such as balloons or fabrics, which make excellent assistants for elderly or disabled people.

[Slide #12: Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science, Engineering, and Education]

We will invest $143 million in Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science Engineering and Education. This research will provide advanced cyberinfrastructure and new capabilities in computational and data-enabled science and engineering. It will both accelerate and transform the process of scientific discovery and innovation.

This effort--called CIF21--includes investments in world-class supercomputers such as Stampede – shown here at the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center. This research will empower America's scientists and engineers to interactively share advanced computational resources, data and expertise in order to advance further research across scientific disciplines.

In 2016, NSF will also continue to lead the Big Data/National Data Infrastructure program, a joint solicitation with the National Institutes of Health that strives to enable breakthrough discoveries and innovation in science, engineering, medicine, commerce, education, and national security.

[Slide #13: Innovation Corps]

The Foundation's Innovation Corps--or I-Corps--will receive $30 million, improving NSF-funded researchers' access to resources that can assist in bridging the gap between discoveries and downstream technological applications.

In FY 2016, NSF will continue to support I-Corps Nodes and I-Corps Sites to further build, utilize, and sustain a national innovation ecosystem that augments the development of technologies, products, and processes that benefit the Nation.

Anyone who flies across the country recognizes the image above--of thousands of water-irrigated plots of land used to grow agricultural products. Trying to sell or buy water rights can be a complicated exercise.

So NSF-funded scientists at the University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed an algorithm that can match potential buyers and sellers, sift through the complexity of local physical and regulatory systems, and reach a fair deal designed especially for them.

These I-Corps awardees founded a company--Mammoth Trading--to provide a neutral, centralized resource serving these buyers and sellers.

[Slide #14: BioMaPS]

We will invest $33 million in Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences – or BioMaPS. This multi-disciplinary program seeks to discover fundamental knowledge at the intersections of Biological Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Engineering. And it seeks to advance discovery at the intersections of these established disciplines. Research includes activities such as the development of models, informed by statistical physics, that establish the mechanisms linking the biological function of chromosomes to their cellular structure.

This model of HIV is just one example of the innovations that can result from BioMAPS. To build this model, NSF-funded researchers at The Scripps Research Institute created a software program using algorithms and a database of molecular recipes. The program allows scientists to explore viruses, bacteria and parts of the human body in astonishing detail.

[Slide #15: Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace]

The Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace investment of $124 million aims to build the knowledge base in cybersecurity that enables discovery, learning and innovation, and leads to a more secure and trustworthy cyberspace.

Through a focus on long-term, foundational research, this effort is developing the scientific foundations for cybersecurity research for years to come. The research in this area will align NSF's cybersecurity investments with several initiatives outlined in the national cybersecurity strategy, entitled Trustworthy Cyberspace: Strategic Plan for the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Program.

Today, some computer scientists are exploring new cybersecurity systems that use ocular biometrics to sense eye shape and muscle movement to provide more secure, reliable identity recognition.

[Slide #16: Education and STEM Workforce]

NSF's STEM education investments in 2016--totaling $1.2 billion--will support students, teachers, researchers, and the public. In keeping with the Administration's priorities, key investments for 2016 focus on areas where NSF is a leader in STEM education, notably undergraduate and graduate education. They also emphasize the need to strengthen foundational STEM education research.

For example, the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program aims to accelerate the quality and effectiveness of the education of undergraduates in all STEM fields by using decades of research on STEM learning and best practices.

In the slide, a Rutgers undergraduate student explains her research project during the sixth annual Garden State Conference for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program.

The Scholarships for Service program supports cybersecurity education and research at higher education institutions. This program increases the number of qualified students entering the fields of information assurance and cybersecurity, which in turn enhances the capacity of the United States higher education enterprise to continue to produce professionals in these fields to secure the Nation's cyberinfrastructure.

In addition, the Education and Human Resources Core Research program remains a top priority and in 2016 will receive strengthened investments in the improvement of STEM learning, teaching, and workforce development, through three key areas: learning and learning environments, broadening participation and institutional capacity, and development of the STEM professional workforce.

[Slide #17: Major Research Facilities]

NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account covers construction for major facilities that enable research on a scale consistent with their goals. In other words, "Big Science" often requires "Big Facilities."

For example, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile recently captured the early formation of a solar system around an infant star in remarkable detail. And this is only the first discovery in what promises to be an exciting new avenue for exploring the Universe. In 2016, NSF requests a total of $200 million funding to continue construction of three substantial facilities: the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and the National Ecological Observatory Network – better known as NEON. NSF is not requesting funds to begin any new facilities in 2016.

[Slide #18: Agency Operations and Award Management]

NSF's Agency Operations and Award Management account will receive $355 million, a 9.2 percent increase over 2015. This account provides critical support to NSF staff, affording them adequate resources to carry out agency responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

Operational activities will receive an increase to ensure the Foundation has sufficient resources to fully fund ongoing operational requirements and maintain essential services as we approach the transition to the new NSF headquarters.

[Slide #19: Agency Operations and Award Management]

In closing, as we look forward, the Foundation will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that America remains at the center of the revolution in research and discovery--a revolution that is driving 21st century economies.

More than ever, our future prosperity and national interests depend on sustained investments in science and engineering. The FY 2016 budget request acknowledges the Foundation's pivotal role in ensuring America's future through fundamental science and engineering research.

Thank you again for joining us this afternoon.

See related NSF FY 2016 Budget Request materials.