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Hearing Testimony


Hearing on the National Science Foundation's FY 2004 Appropriations

Testimony of
Dr. Rita R. Colwell, Director
National Science Foundation
Committee on Appropriations
VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Subcommittee

April 3, 2003

Chairman Bond, Senator Mikulski and Members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you today. For more than fifty years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a strong steward of America's science and engineering enterprise. Although NSF represents less than 4 percent of the total federal budget for research and development, it accounts for one-fifth of all federal support for basic research and 40 percent of support for research at academic institutions, excluding the life sciences. Despite its small size, NSF has an extraordinary impact on scientific and engineering knowledge and capacity.

During NSF's five decades of leadership, groundbreaking advances in knowledge have reshaped society and enabled the United States to become the most productive nation in history. The returns on NSF's strategic investments in science, engineering, and mathematics research and education have been enormous. Much of the sustained economic prosperity America has enjoyed over the past decade is the result of technological innovation – innovation made possible, in large part, by NSF support.

In our 21st century world, knowledge is the currency of everyday life, and at the National Science Foundation we are in the knowledge business. Our investments are aimed at the frontiers of science and engineering research and education, where advances in fundamental knowledge drive innovation and progress.

Today, our nation faces significant challenges – in security, health, the economy, and the workforce. The surest way to keep our nation prosperous and secure is to keep it at the forefront of learning and discovery. The NSF budget proposal for FY 2004 aims to do just that, and I am very pleased to present it to you today.

I'll begin with the big picture. This year the National Science Foundation is requesting $5.48 billion dollars. That's an additional $453 million, or 9 percent more than last year's request. When compared to the Omnibus Appropriations, the request is $171 million, or 3 percent more than the appropriated levels. In order to remain consistent with the President's Budget all of my comparisons today will be made to the '03 request.

This budget leaves no doubt that the President embraces NSF's vision and value. NSF-funded research and education will help us meet the economic and national security challenges facing us at home and abroad, now and in the future.

NSF has been growing – surely and steadily. Our investments this year put us on the right path, and with the leadership and vision of this Committee, the NSF Authorization Act, signed by the President in December, will keep us moving in the right direction in the years to come.

To promote the progress of science, NSF invests in three strategic areas.

People: Facilitating the creation of a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally engaged workforce of scientists and engineers and well-prepared citizens is NSF's first priority. To achieve this goal, NSF supports improvement efforts in formal and informal science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. Across its science, mathematics, engineering, and technology research and education programs, NSF works to enhance the diversity of our science and engineering workforce. The Foundation provides support for almost 200,000 people, including students, teachers, researchers, post-doctorates, and trainees.

Ideas: Investments in ideas support cutting edge research and education that yield new and important discoveries and promote the development of new knowledge and techniques within and across traditional boundaries. These investments help maintain America’s academic institutions at the forefront of science and engineering. The results of NSF-funded projects provide a rich foundation for broad and useful applications of knowledge and development of new technologies. Support for ideas also promotes the education and training of the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Tools: NSF investments provide state-of-the-art tools for research and education, including instrumentation and equipment, multi-user facilities, digital libraries, research resources, accelerators, telescopes, research vessels and aircraft, and earthquake simulators. These tools also include large surveys and databases as well as computation and computing infrastructure for all fields of science, engineering, and education. Support for these unique national facilities is essential to advancing U.S. research and education.

Of course, People, Ideas and Tools work together to give us the best returns in discovery, learning and innovation.

Before providing a few highlights of the budget, let me stress that the priority-setting process at NSF results from continual consultation with the research community. New programs are added or enhanced only after seeking the combined expertise and experience of the science and engineering community, the Director and Deputy, and the National Science Board.

Programs are initiated or enlarged based on considerations of their intellectual merit, broader impacts of the research, the importance to science and engineering, balance across fields and disciplines, and synergy with research in other agencies and nations. NSF coordinates its research with our sister research agencies both informally – by program officers being actively informed of other agencies' programs – and formally, through interagency agreements that spell out the various agency roles in research activities. Moreover, through our Committee of Visitors process there is continuous evaluation and feedback of information about how NSF programs are performing.

Producing the finest scientists and engineers in the world and encouraging new ideas to strengthen U.S. leadership across the frontiers of discovery are NSF’s principal goals. NSF puts its money where it counts – 95 percent of our budget goes directly to the research and education that keep our knowledge base fresh, our economy humming and the benefits to society flowing.

Each year, NSF funds about 33,000 proposals at the leading edge of research. And we support more than 200,000 students, teachers, and researchers.

Investing in People is key to developing the nation's full talent and maintaining the quality of our workforce. There is no better place to begin than with our children. We must ensure that every child can participate in the nation’s prosperity and contribute to its progress.

The budget includes $200 million for the Math and Science Partnership program, a key component of the President's No Child Left Behind initiative. This is the third installment of a $1 billion, five-year investment to raise the performance of all U.S. students in mathematics and science. The program links local schools with colleges and universities to improve teacher performance and provide a challenging curriculum for every student. And it creates innovative ways to reach out to underserved students and schools.

Our nation's science and engineering workforce is the most productive in the world. To keep it that way, we have to attract more of the most promising students to graduate-level studies in science and engineering.

We have been steadily increasing stipend levels from a low of $15,000 in 1999, and it's working. Applications for graduate fellowships increased by 19 percent between 2001 and 2002. This year, we are requesting an increase to $30,000. And, we will also increase the number of fellowships.

Opportunities to advance knowledge have never been greater than they are today. NSF invests in emerging areas of research that hold exceptional potential to strengthen U.S. world leadership in areas of global economic and social importance. This year, we are requesting funding for six of these priority areas: biocomplexity, information technology, nanoscale science and engineering, mathematical sciences, human and social dynamics, and the 21st century workforce.

The budget includes a $100 million dollar request for research in Biocomplexity in the Environment. This investment will continue support for microbial genome sequencing and the ecology of infectious diseases, two areas that are of vital importance to the nation's anti-terrorism efforts. Research that charts the interactions among physical, human, and other living systems, will improve our ability to understand and manage our environment. The development of new technologies and tools rounds out this investment.

As the lead agency in two of the Administration's top interagency R&D efforts, NSF has provided an investment of $724 million in Networking and Information Technology Research and Development and $249 million in the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Our priority area investment in Information Technology Research of $303 million will advance every field of science and add to our economic prospects. We propose to expand fundamental research in high-end computation and large-scale networking. Other investments address the need for safe and dependable information systems for national security and consumer protection. To reap the educational benefits of the information revolution, we plan to focus on the use of cutting-edge IT research in the classroom.

The emerging field of nanoscale science and engineering promises a revolution at least as far-reaching as the one we’ve witnessed in information, computer and communications technologies. The ability to manipulate and control matter at the atomic and molecular levels will open new possibilities in materials and manufacturing, medicine, environment and energy, and national security. As the lead agency in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, NSF is requesting $249 million to expand basic research on new materials, biological systems at the nanoscale, and quantum computing. We will address the need to build capacity through investments in centers, training programs, and equipment. Research on the social and educational impacts of nanotechnology can prepare us to make the best use of new applications.

Mathematics is the lingua franca, or as I like to say, the Esperanto of science and engineering. It leads us to new and deeper insights in every discipline. We propose to invest $90 million in the Mathematical Sciences priority area to pursue fundamental research in the mathematical sciences and statistics, and programs that will bring cutting-edge mathematical and statistical techniques to all fields.

This investment will improve our ability to handle the massive data sets produced by today's sensors and observation systems, and to model and manage uncertainty. We also propose to strengthen connections between research and education in the mathematical sciences.

Building on previous investments in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, NSF proposes to launch a Human and Social Dynamics priority area. An investment of $24 million will fund research and new techniques to deepen our understanding of the impacts of change on our lives and on our institutions. The request will help us build the large-scale databases and refined research methods needed for major progress in the social sciences.

Research will improve our understanding of how people make decisions, take risks, and deal with uncertainty. We will also support studies of large-scale change, such as globalization, the evolution of society and its interaction with the environment, and the implications of culture for conflict and assimilation.

The nation needs both world-class scientists and engineers, and a workforce that has the scientific and technical skills needed to thrive in today’s changing workplace.

NSF is requesting $8.5 million to begin the development of a Workforce for the 21st Century priority area to address three critical national science and engineering workforce needs: preparing scientists and engineers capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century; attracting more U.S. students to science and engineering fields; and broadening participation in science and engineering. We will fund Integrative Institutional Collaborations that bring together and integrate NSF educational activities that work – the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education (GK-12), the Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeships (IGERT) program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), and Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) program, for example.

We will expand research opportunities for students and faculty from high schools and from 2-year and 4-year colleges. Our investments will emphasize efforts to build stronger links between research and education at historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

Every year it becomes more difficult to choose only a few NSF activities to highlight in the budget presentation. But they are all genuinely significant, and I want to make brief comments about each.

Our nation is facing new and difficult challenges in homeland security. The NSF budget includes investments that will help us meet growing security needs. I've already mentioned programs in microbial genome sequencing and the ecology of infectious diseases. The Scholarships for Service program will train students in information security and assurance, in exchange for service in federal government agencies. Vital research in the Critical Infrastructure Protection program is designed to pinpoint vulnerabilities and strengthen protection for the nation’s power grids, transportation networks, and water supply systems. A diverse portfolio of security-related information technology research rounds out the NSF contribution. Every one of these investments will have a big payoff.

This year, the NSF budget places special emphasis on investments in the physical sciences. We propose a 12.7 percent increase that will bring total funding in areas such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, and materials research to over $1 billion dollars. We need this investment to spur the fresh and vigorous research in these fields that has helped in the past to power advances in medicine, energy, agriculture, and the environment.

As part of the President's multi-agency Climate Change Research Initiative, NSF will support focused research to reduce uncertainty in critical areas of climate change knowledge and provide timely information for policy decisions. We are requesting $4.5 million to establish 3 or more new centers to improve understanding of risk management, risk communication, and decision-making. These studies will complement NSF’s ongoing programs in climate change science.

We know that diversity gives strength to the fabric of our society. The NSF request places special emphasis on broadening participation in science and engineering. The Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Undergraduate Program increases by 43 percent, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, which helps minorities toward undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, and the ADVANCE program, aimed at more diversity among successful scientists with family responsibilities, will both increase by 23 percent, and finally, the Partnerships for Innovation program, which transfers knowledge from research and education into the creation of new wealth by strengthening local and regional economies, will double its budget to $10 million.

We are requesting $105 million for the EPSCoR program to continue building the capacity of educational institutions so that they can participate more fully in NSF research activities.

The Noyce Scholarships address the shortage of highly trained K-12 teachers by providing scholarships to talented mathematics, science, and engineering students who wish to pursue teaching careers in elementary or secondary schools.

This year, our budget provides $75 million to support ongoing research on the genomics of plants of major economic importance. This includes a program of Young Investigator Awards in Plant Genome Research.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program, or STEP, provides grants to colleges and universities to establish programs to increase the number of undergraduate math and science majors. We are requesting $7 million for the program this year, an increase of $5 million, or 250 percent, over the request for FY 2003.

The National Science Foundation furthers its research efforts by entering into partnerships with other federal agencies and regards these partnerships as a core strategy for enabling Foundation activities. As part of the Administration's multi-agency Climate Change Research Initiative, NSF will support research to reduce uncertainty in critical areas of climate change knowledge and provide timely information to facilitate policy decisions. The total FY 2004 investment for CCRI increases by $10.0 million to a total of $25.0 million.

Finally, the budget provides $20 million to fund three or more new Science of Learning Centers. These centers will build on advances in the social sciences, computer science, engineering, and neuroscience to investigate how people learn, how the brain stores information, and how best to use information technology to promote learning. The aim is to bring fresh knowledge to the design of learning environments.

The most significant dollar increase in NSF's FY'04 budget is in Tools, with a total investment of $1.34 billion, a $219 million increase over last year's request. Rapidly changing technology and increasing demand for state-of-the-art tools have put tremendous strain on the nation's laboratories and research facilities. We need to renew our science and engineering infrastructure across the board, large and small. For the first time, in order to help Congress better understand our future planning needs, our budget provides a prioritization of all ongoing and planned major facility construction approved by the National Science Board.

NSF plans to invest in major research equipment and facilities construction projects over the next several years. One new start, ocean drilling, is planned for FY'05, with two new starts, Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) and Ocean Observatories, for FY'06.

I want to emphasize that the $220 million increase in Tools is distributed across all of NSF's programs. It includes a new $20 million CyberInfrastructure investment to bring next-generation computer and networking capabilities to researchers and educators nationwide. Other investments, in mid-sized and small equipment, for example, also receive a healthy portion of the increase.

In making these critical investments, NSF continues to put a very strong emphasis on effective and efficient management. We are proud of our track record.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I hope that this brief overview conveys to you the extent of NSF's commitment to advancing science and technology in the national interest.

I ask not only for your support for our FY 2004 budget request, but also want you to know how much I appreciate the long-standing bipartisan support of the committee for NSF. Mr. Chairman, I would ask to include a copy of NSF's budget summary as part of my testimony, and would be happy to answer any questions that you have.



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