Status Report

AIP FYI#44: Enthusiastic Support for NSF from Research Subcommittee

By SpaceRef Editor
March 31, 2005
Filed under ,

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 44: March 31, 2005

Enthusiastic Support for NSF from Research Subcommittee

The new chairman and ranking minority member of the House Science
Subcommittee on Research had the opportunity on March 9 to
demonstrate their enthusiastic support for NSF, its responsibilities
in supporting basic research and science education, and the value of
basic research to America’s future competitiveness.

“Basic research is surely the lifeblood of innovation,” Chairman Bob
Inglis (R-SC) said in his opening statement at the hearing on NSF’s
budget and management challenges. “Without NSF supporting basic
research, our edge in science will slip away.” He declared that the
proposed FY 2006 increase above NSF’s current budget “doesn’t make
up for last year’s cuts.” The budget, he said, is “still below the
FY 2004 level” and “far below the promised level of doubling.”
Ranking Member Darlene Hooley (D-OR) called the request “clearly
inadequate to meet [NSF’s] wide-ranging responsibilities.” Both
subcommittee members questioned the proposed reductions in NSF
science education programs, and the transfer of $48 million for the
Foundation to take over operations and maintenance of several Coast
Guard icebreaking ships that support NSF polar programs and are
nearing the end of their useful lives. Taking this transfer into
account, Hooley pointed out, would mean that NSF’s Research and
Related Activities account would receive an increase of only 0.3
percent above current funding rather than 2.7 percent as stated in
the request (see for details on
NSF’s FY 2006 budget request).

In describing the FY 2006 request of $5.6 billion, NSF Administrator
Arden Bement cited “four broad priorities”: strengthening core
disciplinary research; providing broadly accessible
cyberinfrastructure and world-class research facilities; broadening
participation in the science and engineering workforce; and
sustaining organizational excellence in NSF management practices.
He explained that NSF’s priorities are developed with input from the
research community, the National Academy of Sciences, professional
societies, workshops, conferences, and advisory boards. They are
refined through consultations with NSF management, the National
Science Board (NSB), and OSTP, and finally negotiated with the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In his testimony, Bement
highlighted the management and workforce issues faced by the
Foundation, noting that over the past 12 years, the number of
proposals received annually has grown by over 50 percent, while the
number of full-time equivalent employees has only increased by 5.7
percent. While NSF has relied on technologies and efficiencies to
deal with the increasing workload, he said, “the need for additional
people becomes an overriding need at some point, and we have reached
that point.” He also mentioned the need to increase the proposal
success rate. Regarding the proposed cuts to NSF’s Education and
Human Resources account, he said the Foundation’s focus was on
protecting programs aimed at increasing the participation of
underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Mark Wrighton, speaking on behalf of the NSB, said one way the Board
contributes to the setting of priorities for NSF is by approving its
annual budget submission. He said the Board had approved the FY
2006 proposal that was submitted to OMB in September 2004, and
“generally” supports the President’s ultimate FY 2006 request.
“However,” he added, “we and others have noted that the request
remains below the 2004 operating budget.” Should “additional funds
be made available” through the congressional appropriations process,
he said, the Board would recommend “strong and growing” support for
science and math education, addressing the backlog of approved,
prioritized large facility projects, and addressing the financial
burden due to the transfer of the icebreakers.

Inglis’s first question went to the “tension” between supporting
K-12 education programs and NSF’s other activities, both in higher
education and in research. “Let me assure you there is no tension,”
Bement replied. He stated that outreach to K-12 pervades all NSF
programs. Bement went on to say that NSF has spent over 10 years
supporting rural and urban systemic education initiatives, and now
the best practices and lessons learned “need to be propagated across
all school districts in the country.” The place with the resources
to do so, he said, is “in the Department of Education.” He
reiterated that NSF would maintain programs aimed at broadening
participation in science and engineering. “It seems to me that
we’re going to fall far short of that goal if we don’t generate
enough interest in grade school and high school,” Hooley said.
Bement replied that NSF’s education programs, although successful,
reach “only a minute fraction of the total school districts in the
. We have to build those programs in the Department of
Education,” he continued, so they can “touch all school districts.”

Asked about the management challenges outlined in the testimony of
NSF Inspector General Christine Boesz, including planning for future
workforce needs and the lack of resources for post-award monitoring
activities, Bement admitted that the Foundation’s progress was
“resource-paced.” That was the reason, he said, for the requested
20.5 percent increase in NSF’s Salaries and Expenses account.

Bement explained that the decision to transfer funds for the
icebreakers was made by the White House because of concern that the
Coast Guard’s homeland security responsibilities would not support
operations and maintenance of the ships for scientific research,
thus putting NSF’s “polar programs at risk.” He reported that an
inter-agency working group was looking into whether the$48 million
transfer would be sufficient. When Hooley referred to indications
from the Coast Guard that the real need might be closer to $75
million, NSF Polar Programs Director Karl Erb responded that the
Coast Guard estimated an annual need of $70-75 million over the next
4-5 years to keep the ships operational until they underwent a
life-extension program. He said discussions were ongoing “to see
what our options are to meet those requirements” within available
funding, but it was “much too early to predict how it comes out.”

Rep. Dan Lipinsky (D-IL) questioned how Bement intended to increase
the proposal success rate with an essentially flat budget while
maintaining grant size and duration. “There are many practical
ways” of doing that, Bement answered. By making solicitations more
focused, managing community expectations of the success rate better,
limiting solicitations to those addressing key programs of the
Foundation, and in some cases stretching resources by giving awards
over two years, Bement hoped the proposal volume could be reduced
and the success rate increased. “It’s not going to go up
dramatically without new resources,” he said, but at least it might
“halt the erosion.” He remarked that NSF wants to increase the
awards to unsolicited proposals, because they are often closer to
“frontier” research and support newer researchers, often from
underrepresented groups.

“We’re looking to you for innovation,” Inglis stated in closing, and
“you’re looking to us” to provide appropriate resources. It is
important to note, however, that the House Science Committee is an
authorizing committee, and does not control the appropriations

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

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