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Photo of Kathie L. Olsen
Credit: Sam Kittner/kittner.com

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

"Science Policy 101: Building Our Future"

Miller Center Forum
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

April 6, 2007

[Slide #1: Title Slide]
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Good morning, and thank you George for the kind introduction.

I also want to thank Ed Russell and the Miller Center for hosting me today. I actually have some very fond memories of UVA. One of the most exciting aspects of my job is being able to talk with creative advocates for science and technology. I see this visit today as an opportunity to share ideas.

Today, the global economy is tightly linked to science, mathematics, and engineering.
Every phase of the world's infrastructure--from information technology to transportation, healthcare, energy, and manufacturing--is underpinned in some way by science and engineering (S&E).

[Slide #2: Why Does the Federal Government Support Research?]
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Research is probably one of the most powerful forces driving innovation and productivity in America, and around the globe. Economic returns to research and development (R&D) investments are significant, and growing.

There are many studies quantifying the benefits of R&D investments. Several report that up to 50% of American innovation resulted from R&D.

Congressman Vern Ehlers, who has a Ph.D. in Physics, found studies quoting ranges from 25 to 4,000 percent. It's hard to quantify, but many believe that at least half of the innovation that drives our economy has its roots firmly in the results of fundamental basic research, which we believe is the hidden savings that propel this nation.

Wise federal spending on S&T is very good economic policy.

[Slide #3: Major Economic Transformations]
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Our economy has been undergoing a vast transformation in recent decades. Over the last 200 years, our society has transitioned from agricultural, to manufacturing, to knowledge-based.

Human creativity and knowledge are now the driving forces of economic growth, and the service sector employs about 75 percent of our population.

In each of the past five decades, science and engineering jobs in the U.S. economy grew more rapidly than the overall civilian workforce.

[Slide #4: Speed and Spin of Globalization]
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You need to add another set of numbers, and you can literally feel the speed and spin of globalization.

In 2005, human beings produced more transistors at lower cost than they did grains of rice. In terms of consumer electronics in the world today, there are two billion cell phones and 1.5 billion TV sets. There are more than 820 million personal computers, 60 million iPods, and 190 million Game Boys are currently in use worldwide. And, we don't even know about Game Girls!

[Slide #5: Transformative Research]
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The changes have really been staggering, and by all accounts we are designing an even more fast-paced future.

I grew up in Oregon where a mouse was a furry rodent, windows were panes of glass that looked out into the real world, and we used to go out and pick wild blackberries.
Now, I enter the virtual world of cyberspace via MS Windows--and I have to admit that I've become addicted to my "crackberry."

We are just at the beginning of this tectonic global shift that will continue to be fueled by transformative research, and a workforce with the necessary skills to translate knowledge into innovation.

[Slide #6: Science & Engineering Careers]
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When we think about traditional scientific and engineering careers, we think about Drs. Kevin Lee, Anita Jones, or David Green. We really visualize the traditional chemist, biologist, or computer scientist.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment in strictly defined S&E jobs--like these--will increase 70 percent faster than the overall growth rate of all occupations. These jobs will remain significant to our nation's future.

[Slide #7: Science & Engineering-Related Careers]
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But at the same time, jobs not typically classified as S&E increasingly require some understanding of science and technology.

From 1993 to 2003, the number of S&E degree holders working in jobs NOT classified as S&E grew by two million. The Director and the Deputy Director of the NSF are not classified as S&E jobs.

Increasingly, a scientist's place is in the White House (President Carter was an engineer); at the State Department (Colin Powell majored in Geology); and on Capitol Hill. Vern Ehlers, Brian Baird, and Rush Holt all have Ph.D.s. Actually, it is interesting, Congressman Holt was a five-time winner on Jeopardy.

A science and engineering degree now empowers us much as a law degree has for decades.

Our future requires that we educate, and re-educate, a new kind of workforce with a grounding in S&T.

Sandra Day O'Connor put it like this. "Major American businesses made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints."

[Slide #8: The Role of the Federal Government in Science & Technology]
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The truth is that our country's overall prosperity in the last half-century is due in no small measure to America's "innovation system"--a three-way partnership among academia, industry, and government. It's no accident that our country's most productive and competitive industries are those that benefited from Federal and NSF investments in R&D.

Last week, I had the opportunity of listening to Senator John Glenn. He noted that research and education made America the powerhouse that it is today.

It's no accident that our country's most productive and competitive industries are those that benefited from Federal and NSF investments in R&D.

These include computers and communications, semiconductors, biotechnology, aerospace, and environmental technologies.

Management guru Peter Drucker has noted, "Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions."

The Federal Government is an essential actor in making sure S&T help us reach our goals. Science and technology bring many benefits outside of market forces, such as first-class educations, better environmental quality, a strong national defense, and an improved health and well-being. In areas such as these, strong government R&D investments are essential.

Yet, despite the recognition that federal research investments are the seed corn for future technology-based innovations, the U.S. government research investment does not match the new global realities.

[Slide #9: Development of the Federal R&D Budget]
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And, lucky for us the federal budget process remains as simple as ever, and our voices can directly influence the process.

[Slide #10: Sputnik Moment]
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Seriously, however, certain "eye openers" have occurred that have resulted in paramount shifts of federal R&D funding priorities. In several cases, new federal agencies were established.

I like to refer to these "aha" moments in science policy history as "Sputnik moments"--that was certainly one of the times our country really stopped in its tracks and took notice of the S&T competition.

Actually, the grand tradition of publicly-funded research began even earlier, during World War II.  Wise public officials, most prominently, Vannevar Bush, recognized the larger benefits that publicly-funded science could bring to every avenue of domestic need and progress.

In response, the National Science Foundation was created in 1950. Investments in the next generation of scientists and engineers were also made a priority.

[Slide #11: Historical Perspective]
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In the 1960s, the Federal government focused its attention on space research. We all remember that speech. NASA received a great deal of federal funding. At this time, our country was deeply involved in a space race with Russia--a race that intensified with Russia's launch of Sputnik. These investments propelled the U.S. on a mission to be the first nation to land a man on the Moon. Now, we might land a woman on Mars.

The space race also heralded a new emphasis on developing the science and technology workforce. NASA received an average annual increase of 23% of the Federal R&D budget from 1962 to 1968.

In the 1970s, the Middle East oil crisis and rising fuel prices led to a heavy investment in energy research. I like to say, "some of my best friends" remember actually standing in line every other day to get gas. That was really an eye opener. The Department of Energy received a 27% annual increase from 1973 to 1979 to really address this energy crisis.

From 1979 to the mid 1980s, the Federal R&D pendulum swung towards defense, influenced by the Cold War. The annual average R&D spending at the Department of Defense was around 7%. These investments later helped fuel the dot.com explosion of the 1990s.

In the last decade, we have seen the growing importance of health-related R&D, while the budget allocation for general science has grown incrementally in the last 25 years. Over the last several years, we've seen the doubling of the NIH budget.

The new era of globalization calls again for a re-prioritization of federal investments. Many global indicators collectively serve as a clarion call for renewed investments in fundamental science and engineering research and education.

[Slide #12: Global Competition]
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For the first time in recent memory, the U.S. trade balance for both high-tech industries and goods has turned negative.

Patents, patent citations, and graduation rates in foreign countries are other key indicators of increasing global competition.

Europe and Asia have made especially rapid strides in the graduation of new natural science and engineering students, and are producing the bulk of natural science and engineering doctorates.

We know that the research and development and S&E labor markets will continue to grow as countries seek competitive advantage.

[Slide #13: World R&D Expenditures]
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Broad expansion of S&T capabilities is underway in many countries--especially emerging economies--that is both policy- and market-driven. R&D expenditures are increasing robustly around the world--driven by both government and industry.

High-wage nations in Asia and Europe have invested heavily in S&T. South Korea and Taiwan have recently advanced their technical capacity and increasingly challenge U.S. prominence in many product markets. China has rapidly become one of the world's largest R&D performing countries behind the U.S. and Japan.

The Economist magazine states, "[As emerging economies] become more integrated into the global economy and their incomes catch up with the rich countries, they will provide the biggest boost to the world economy since the Industrial Revolution…"

It is likely to be the biggest stimulus in history, because the industrial revolution fully involved only one-third of the world's population.

[Slide #14: President's American Competitiveness Initiative]
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Hence, the Administration introduced the American Competitiveness Initiative, or ACI. The ACI sets a bold challenge, calling for an expanded federal investment to drive innovation and sharpen the Nation's competitive edge and maintain the U.S. position at the forefront of discovery, learning, and innovation.

As part of ACI, the NSF budget is on track to double over the next ten years. NSF received an 8.7 percent boost in its total budget request to $6.4 billion in 2008, and a similar boost in 2007. This is at the same time when other agencies are staying flat.

The ACI also increases other principal sources of federal support for the physical sciences and engineering. In addition, it focuses on the need for teacher training and better math and science education. This is another area where NSF is a leader. Education of the next generation is core to our mission, and the integration of research and education is central in everything we do.

[Slide #15: Broader S&T Policy Efforts]
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The Administration has clearly demonstrated its commitment by investing in science and engineering to increase our Nation's capacity to innovate, compete, and grow our economy.

Members of Congress and important stakeholder communities—including industrial leaders—are equally supportive of such investments.

In fact, there are a number of bills currently pending that would promote U.S. competitiveness through the support for basic research.

All of these activities collectively voice the need to renew our federal investments in fundamental science, mathematics, and engineering.

[Slide #16: NSF Vision and Mission]
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So, now enter the National Science Foundation (NSF)! For over 50 years, NSF has been a steward of the nation's discovery and innovation process. The agency has been crucial to the nation's economic strength, global competitiveness, national security, and quality of life. What would we do without Google? Google's development was basically supported by NSF and started by two graduate students.

The NSF mission is to look toward the frontier to identify the most transformative and promising research and education directions.

As I've already mentioned, our mandate also calls for us to help ensure a robust S&T workforce. We are committed to developing programs to recruit and retain students in science, engineering, and math.

[Slide #17: NSF's Broader Roles]
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NSF is a unique federal organization. Other federal agencies have mandates in specific areas, from agriculture to space, and from health to energy. We are the only government agency with the mandate to support fundamental, frontier research and education across all scientific and engineering fields.

Building on decades of fundamental research, investigators are creating models of increasingly complex systems across multiple disciplines and scales.

Since I'm at UVA, I want to highlight some of the UVA research, which is very rich. Jill Venton, supported by an NSF CAREER grant, is developing a better understanding of neurotransmission. She's actually using carbon nanotubes, modified by microelectronics, to understand neurotransmission.

Another UVA-CAREER awardee, David Green, studies polymer nanocomposites.
Researchers at the Virginia Coast Reserve LTER, supported by NSF, are working to understand how long-term environmental change and short-term disturbances control the dynamic nature of coastal barrier landscapes.

[Slide #18: NSF: Priority Setting]
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It is the work of researchers, like Gene Block, Kevin Lee and others, that help NSF identify key areas that show promise.

NSF welcomes the expertise and input from researchers and educators in our program planning. We take what we like to call, a "grassroots" or "bottoms up" approach.

We rely on our community to give us insight about what works, how the national science and engineering enterprise is changing, and where we are to focus.

One of the best ways to be part of the government is to spend time at NSF. There have been a number of UVA professors, like Otto Friesen, who have done just that.

You are our eyes and ears in the field, and you inform us about what's happening on the frontier.

[Slide #19: NSF Investment Priorities]
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Our multidisciplinary and cross-directorate initiatives ensure that a fundamental goal, such as education and broadening participation, is part of every NSF program and project.

In order to compete in the 21st century, the U.S. will need the participation of every citizen. Broadening the opportunities to participate will automatically broaden the contributions that result. NSF recognizes that we need a workforce to prosper as a nation, and our goal is to make it as all-inclusive as possible.

This is the perfect time for a brief commercial, but it's for a very good cause. NSF's newly released strategic plan captures our new investment priorities and also our values and stewardship. And like a good bureaucrat, I brought some copies because we do that.

[Slide #20: UVA Research]
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NSF also has unique approaches to stimulate innovation, like Small Grants for Exploratory Research, or SGERs. William Keene, here at UVA, has a SGER grant for examining one component of a larger investigation of how sea-salt aerosol influences atmospheric chemistry and climate.

NSF also invests in large-scale, center-based programs, like UVA's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and its Long-Term Environmental Research site for coastal research.

And, NSF supports workforce development programs, like UVA's Partnership for Nanotechnology Education and Workforce Development, which is supported by a Partnership for Innovation Award. UVA's Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training award, or IGERT, from NSF supports training in laser interactions.

In total, UVA received $16.5 million of NSF support for 126 projects in FY 2006. Independent of NIH, we're the primary supporter of UVA research.

[Slide 21: NSF & Federal Academic Basic Research]
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Although NSF investments account for only four percent of total federal funding for research and development, NSF is the primary source for federal academic research. The agency provides 45 percent of federal support to academic institutions for non-medical basic research.

For over two decades, NSF has been a principal source of federal support for basic research at colleges and universities in such areas as computer science, mathematics, the physical sciences, the social sciences, the environmental sciences, engineering, and non-medical areas of the life sciences, especially in ecosystems.

NSF does not directly support medical research, except bioengineering. But, our research investments undergird the medical sciences and related industries, leading to advances in diagnosis, regenerative medicine, drug delivery, and the design and processing of pharmaceuticals.

We also support research through our Small Grants for Exploratory Research, or SGER grants. They allow us to capitalize on creative ideas that probably would not get funded through the merit review process, because of their perceived high risk. For example, Kevin Lee, a professor here, actually was working on some rats, and he noticed that some of his rats seemed to have two cortexes instead of one. He thought this was very unusual, but he didn't know if it was really true and if there was a genetic component. So, he called the National Science Foundation and received a SGER grant. We call them 'sugar' [SGER], because they are sweet--they are only five pages and do not go out for merit review. Even though this was basic research, he identified a phenotype which is characterized by a set of bilateral heterotopia at the base of the neocortex. This anomaly resembles the human malfunction of a double cortex. Well as it turns out, one of the underpinnings in epilepsy patients is a double cortex. Kevin had no idea what his rat model meant until he received the SGER funding to explore his finding. His results now serve as a model system, and he's working on major breakthroughs on epilepsy through support from the National Institutes of Health.

You might say that NSF is a small agency with a big mission.

[Slide #22: Innovation Resulting from U.S. Federally-Funded Research]
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At NSF, we talk about contributions to society made possible by years of fundamental science and engineering research.

NSF-supported research has underpinned multiple discoveries: the Internet, Web browsers, Doppler radar, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, DNA fingerprinting, and bar codes, to name a few.

These diverse examples underscore NSF's significant contributions to American innovation, and illustrate the Agency's critical role in maintaining our global preeminence in S&T.

The best proof of the success of NSF is the repeated replication of its model for discovery, education, and innovation in nations around the world.

[Slide #23: U.S. Citizens and Science Literacy]
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Despite our proven successes, a lack of general knowledge about S&T may adversely affect the number of young people choosing S&T careers, the public's resistance to miracle cures or get-rich-quick schemes, and the level of government support for research – just to name a few of the many issues. Many of the challenges we face today, such as climate change, stem cell research, or whether or not to go to Mars, require a solid understanding of science and technology if you make policy decisions or participate in "the debate."

Many people throughout the world cannot answer simple, science-related questions. Nor, do they have an understanding of the scientific process.

There was a true-or-false question that they asked people in Europe, the United States and Canada as part of NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators series. The question asked, "True or False? Ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, genetically engineered tomatoes do." Most people replied true.

Another part of NSF's mission is to develop a scientifically literate public.

[Slide #24: Public Confidence in Leadership of Scientific Community]
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At the same time that people might not understand science, most Americans do recognize and appreciate the value of science and engineering research to our larger society.

Since 2002, more people have expressed confidence in the leadership of the scientific community than in any other profession except the military.

Scientists share (with doctors) the top spot in the Harris poll of occupations having the most prestige.

[Slide #25: Arthur C. Clarke "Limits of the Possible" Quote]
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Hence, it is our responsibility to use our credibility in order to create a broad and vibrant pathway for the scientific literacy for all.

As the leaders in the community, we must not only lead science to the frontier, we must also lead the public in its understanding of science and engineering.

The process of innovation and education is never ending.

Arthur C. Clarke captured it best when he said, "The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible." What's interesting about this slide is not what you see, it's what you don't see. That's the question that we're asking today.

If we are going to maintain our global preeminence in global science and technology, we must be careful stewards of the scientific enterprise. The ACI--investing today in America's future competitiveness--will guide us in implementing necessary solutions to propel people, education, and research. And, here at UVA, and at universities across the country, these seeds of the future are being planted and are starting to grow. Thank you very much.


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