Dr. Neal Lane


Remarks - FY 1998 NSF Budget

University Outreach Meeting

March 3, 1997

Good afternoon. I'm very happy to have the chance to join my colleagues and all of you here today. I am not going to talk a lot about numbers--although I will be happy to answer any questions about numbers. First I want to thank you for all of the work you do to secure strong, stable, bipartisan support for investments in research and education. I know you often operate as a quote/unquote "virtual" organization. Let me just say that for a virtual entity, you look very good in reality, and I know your efforts to date have had a real and positive impact.

We know this is a crucial time of transition for the university enterprise. We've got our work cut out for us, perhaps more-so now than ever before-thanks in large part to events of the past week.

I'm speaking of the news from Scotland and what is now the world's most famous lamb. It has captured society's attention as few stories from the world of science ever have.

I have conducted my own very unscientific survey to gauge the level of interest, using the Washington Post as a proxy database.

Since then, we've seen a steady stream of articles, commentaries, and editorial cartoons. This morning's Post ran two more articles, plus an op-ed by Jessica Mathews on the topic.

We can therefore say with certainty that this story is not likely to fade away anytime soon. In fact, we've already begun to see anti-cloning legislation emerging from various Congressional offices.

All of this brought to mind another story I heard recently. A person rushes into a TV repair shop, looking frantic and hassled, and asks, "Can you replace the batteries in my TV remote control. It hasn't worked for three days." The repair clerk replies, "Certainly, I know how tough it is to watch TV without a remote." The customer then says, "That's not the problem. I just want to turn the darn thing off!"

In no small way, the pictures of Dolly we've seen in the news have become a symbol for the larger impact of science and technology on our society. Some are intimidated by what is happening, others are invigorated by it, but virtually no one can ignore it.

This has direct implications for our work, and it underscores the need to advance the priorities outlined in the President's FY 1998 budget request. I doubt more than a few of us could hold our own in a far-ranging debate on the ethical implications of the breakthroughs emerging from Scotland. If you can, more power to you.

Rather than taking a crash course in bio-ethics, I see a different but infinitely more important role in this discussion for each of us here today-and the university enterprise generally. We need to amplify the signal we've been sending for the past decade or so.

That signal is one of being open, accessible, committed to reaching out, committed to working across disciplines and sectors, and committed to ensuring that our national investment in science and engineering delivers the highest possible return to all Americans.

Given the events of the past week, it would be only natural for many people, even some of our best friends, to begin asking if science is going too far, too fast. Combine that with the generally tight funding environment, and you can see why I believe we have our work cut out for us.

The priorities outlined in the President's budget for NSF recognize the invaluable leadership that the academic research and education enterprise provides to our nation. NSF supports nearly 50 percent of the basic research conducted at colleges and universities in essentially all fields of science and engineering--except for biomedical research, which NIH supports. Our FY98 request strongly reaffirms our commitment to academic research, and to linking the research process with teaching and learning.

We are also establishing a major initiative in the area we refer to as Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence-KDI for short. This is a broad-based effort that aims to keep academic science and engineering at the leading edge of information technologies.

We have all witnessed first hand the potential offered by advances in computing and communications technologies like the World Wide Web. It has literally revolutionized how we conduct research and disseminate results. We can now look up birth rates in the next county and the next galaxy. It's been said that if air travel had progressed as quickly as computing, we'd be able to fly coast to coast in 10 minutes for $30.

This rapid progress has not been an entirely smooth ride, of course. Most of us have also experienced the frustration these technologies can bring. A simple search can turn into many hours of fruitless surfing. My grandkids think that's the best part of the web. I love my grandkids, but I think we can do better.

That's why KDI is a centerpiece of our FY98 budget. It is designed to help us take the next quantum leap forward in terms of both scientific progress and economic and societal benefit. The academic enterprise is the focal point for this effort. Web browsers, computer aided design, technologies for learning, and reliable methods of transferring data are just a few of the advances and benefits that have deep roots in academic research across a wide range of fields and disciplines.

For FY98, we are seeking an increase of $58 million for our portfolio of KDI activities, which currently total nearly $360 million. This will cover our role in the Next Generation Internet, as well as a set of multidisciplinary activities such as learning and intelligent systems and knowledge-based networking.

An overarching theme for KDI and NSF's programming generally is our commitment to linking research with education. In our FY98 request, you'll see that programs like Research Experiences for Undergraduates, CAREER, and GOALI are all slated for major increases. All of these aim to make research and discovery an essential part of the learning process for both graduate students and undergraduates.

A friend of mine recently told a story about a meeting she'd had with a member of Congress about the importance of funding for academic research. She did not reveal the member's name, but she did reveal his response to her arguments. He said something to the effect of: "I spent four years on a university campus and you didn't convince me then that research matters. How can you expect me to help you now?" I imagine most of us have encountered similar responses at one time or another.

With this in mind, I would like to close by reinforcing a point I made at the outset of my remarks today. This is a crucial period of transition for academic science and engineering. It is now more important than ever that we send a clear signal about being committed to linking our work in research and education to the challenges and concerns that face our society.

NSF's FY98 budget strongly reaffirms the Foundation's long-standing tradition of supporting research and education at our colleges and universities. This budget in particular recognizes the central and indispensable role of the academic enterprise in securing a brighter future for all Americans.

Thank you again for all of you efforts in support of the Foundation and science and engineering generally. I look forward to continuing to work with each of you. I'll be happy to take any questions.