NSF & Congress
Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation
Before the House Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Basic Research
February 16, 2000
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, members of
the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify
at this important hearing. I welcome this opportunity
to discuss NSF's budget request for fiscal year 2001.
We believe it is truly a 21st century budget
for 21st century science and engineering.
Let me briefly review the highlights of the Fiscal
Year 2001 budget request.
It begins with a $2.8 billion increase in the President's
21st Century Research Fund. That's the
bottom line for the core science and technology programs
across the government.
A centerpiece of this investment is a $675 million
increase for NSF. That's double the largest dollar
increase ever proposed previously.
- It's a jump of 17.3 percent.
- This would put us around $4.6 billion, a pretty
good number for our 50th anniversary.
- Finally, nearly half of our increase will be money
available for what we often call "core activities."
There is an increase of over $300 million that
is not tied to any of the focused initiatives.
This will give the Foundation the flexibility
we've been seeking for years.
I've always said that my biggest challenge as NSF Director
is to strengthen the core science and engineering
disciplines while moving forward in interdisciplinary
This budget meets that challenge. It does both, and
it does both very well. It is truly a 21st
Century investment for 21st Century science
Mr. Chairman, let me discuss briefly how this historic
budget request came to pass.
The strong economy has been our best friend. When Alan
Greenspan said, 'something special is happening in
the U.S. economy' - and it's happening because of
science and technology - people sat up and took notice.
That ended the argument over whether the information
revolution was just a fad or was really a fundamental
That got the attention of people, and it made it possible
many of us in the scientific community, working together,
to be heard and to build awareness.
All around Washington, people's eyes stopped glazing
over when we presented our arguments. The key was
that it was truly a team effort.
When we talked about the importance of engineering
and the physical sciences to health care, people began
to get the point. They know we've been saying that
at NSF for years.
This year, they started to hear about it from the head
of Pfizer and the head of NASDAQ - and even from the
head of NIH.
We talked about the mix of public and private funding
in our national portfolio and why it matters. Industry
R&D may be growing at a record rate, but its dependence
on public investments is growing even faster. We have
the charts and the graphs with patent data and other
indicators to show this.
Even better was that we have CEOs lining up with our
colleagues in academe through the Council on Competitiveness
and other forums.
The final push is here in the halls of Congress, where
so many individual members and committees are now
discussing the importance of investments in science
Of course, that's not news to members of this subcommittee,
who have led the fight for basic research for many
A major contribution was the creation of the National
Science Policy Study - shepherded by this Committee
and approved by the House through the hard work of
Chairman Sensenbrenner, Vice Chairman Ehlers and Former
Speaker Newt Gingrich.
This study has gone a long way toward making investments
in fundamental science and engineering a national,
We still have some work to do on this score, but we're
getting there. It has been exciting to watch this
take shape across our various communities, and I thank
all of you for helping to make it happen.
This year, we'll begin to see the real rewards that
come from working together.
Let me quickly review the major highlights of this
The research account is up by almost 20%, and this
will meet the challenge of strengthening the core
and moving forward in emerging areas.
The EHR appropriation receives a 5.5% increase. I should
add that this represents only a portion of our investment
in education and learning. There are significant investments
in education and learning in the Research and Related
Activities Account. That is why you'll see the overall
investment in education and in the 21st
Workforce initiative receive much bigger increases.
Major Research Equipment gets a large increase in percentage
terms, with a dollar increase of around $45 million.
And, we have also been able to provide solid increases
for our administrative accounts.
Now, let me put these numbers in a more informative
NSF Strategic Plan
A few weeks ago, the National Science Board approved
the new GPRA strategic plan for the Foundation. We've
been using the plan throughout the development of
this budget request.
The plan set's forth our strategic goals. We've been
highlighting these for some time.
- Ideas -- Discovery at and across the frontier
of science and engineering, and connections to
its use in the service of society.
- People -- A diverse, internationally competitive
and globally-engaged workforce of scientists,
engineers and well-prepared citizens.
- Tools -- Broadly accessible, state-of-the-art
information bases and shared research and education
All of these three goals work in concert. They reinforce
each other in ways that boost U.S. leadership in all
aspects of science and engineering research and education.
You'll see these goals highlighted throughout our budget
documents. The different categories tell a fuller
story than the appropriations accounts.
This is a budget about big ideas. Ideas are up 23%
by this measure. This includes the main thrust of
our funding for the initiatives - as well as the increased
investment in core disciplinary research.
Think of it as a balance wheel. It gives us the means
to improve grant size and duration and boost investment
across the board.
Examples of investments in core research include: fundamental
mathematics, functional genomics, physical, chemical
and geological cycles, and research in the psychological,
cognitive, and language sciences.
Investments in people: we've always said that every
NSF dollar is an investment in people, and we have
shown this to be the case. We cover kindergarten to
This investment encompasses much of our Education and
Human Resources Directorate as well as many activities
funded right across the Foundation.
Across all of NSF, we support nearly 200,000 people
- teachers, students, researchers, postdocs, and many
Tools - these are the databases, platforms, and facilities
that keep us at the leading edge. There are some new
starts in here that I'll be highlighting in a moment.
I also want to mention the Administration and Management
line. This is more than just our salaries and expenses
It includes investments that will aid our ability to
adopt advanced information technologies, enhance customer
service, and ensure financial integrity.
These investments are critical to NSF's performance
as our workload increases in quantity and complexity.
The headliners in the request are the four initiatives.
Let me make one point right now about the numbers.
I can see some of you running your mental calculators.
At first glance, it looks like the initiatives consumes
the lion's share of the net increase. The total increase
for these four initiatives is close to $500 million.
That's not the whole story, however. Even in a record-setting
budget like this one - we still had to make tough
decisions and realign our priorities to free up additional
These four initiatives stand out as national priorities.
We would have gone the extra mile to make these investments
even without the boost to our bottom line.
Let me highlight the three initiatives funded from
the Research and Related Activities Account. Our 21st
Century Workforce Initiative and our education investments
will be highlighted at a future hearing before the
Information Technology Research
Let me go into detail about why these areas stand out.
The Information Technology Research Initiative comes
out of last year's PITAC report. NSF remains the lead
agency for what is now a seven agency initiative.
Participating agencies are: the National Science Foundation,
the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy,
the Department of Commerce, Health and Human Services,
the Environmental Protection Agency and the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The initiative is now well underway here at NSF, and
the response has been overwhelming - literally.
The first solicitation brought 2,400 pre-proposals.
They came from all disciplines: not just computer
science, but also mathematics, physics, psychology,
the social sciences, educators, and even a number
of artists as well.
That's the kind of creativity and imagination we were
hoping to inspire, and that is what the nation needs.
The IT major thrusts are some of greatest challenges
for all of research. I'll mention just three examples.
In the past, our system architectures could handle
hundreds of processors. Now, we are working with systems
of 10,000 processors.
In a very short time, we'll be hooking millions of
systems and billions of 'information appliances' on
to the Internet. We need new methods and theories
to develop the architectures for scaling up to these
Next, let's consider how we represent information.
A visual bit is not the same as an audio bit or a
textual bit. And, they all differ depending on the
content and the context. We therefore need a new kind
of information theory - one that incorporates these
different kinds of information.
Finally, we have to address a range of access and workforce
issues. The digital divide won't disappear on its
own. Overcoming it will require innovative educational
technologies, such as highly interactive computer
science courseware that is multilingual, multicultural,
We will need the capability to operate over distributed
environments such as the Internet. We'll need continued
research on the social, economic, and cultural factors
that affect IT usage.
These are the kinds of challenges we'll be tackling
under the focus areas.
National Nanoscale Science and
Engineering Initiative (NNI)
The new National Nanoscale Science and Engineering
Initiative received special mention in both the President's
State of the Union Address and in his speech on research
funding at Caltech.
To appreciate what this is all about we need to step
back for a moment.
One nanometer (one billionth of a meter) is a magical
point on the dimensional scale. Nanostructures are
at the confluence of the smallest of human-made devices
and the large molecules of living systems.
- Individual atoms are around a few angstroms in
diameter -- a few tenths of a nanometer.
- DNA molecules are about 2.5 nanometers wide.
- Biological cells, like red blood cells, have diameters
in the range of thousands of nanometers. Micro-electrical
mechanical systems are now approaching this same
- This means we are now at the point of connecting
machines to individual cells.
That involves biology, math, physics, chemistry, materials,
engineering, IT -- all the different ways they connect
to each other at the nano-scale.
NSF will be the lead agency in the larger initiative,
and we'll be focusing on science and engineering at
We have developed a strong portfolio of investments.
The major component is fundamental research at the
nanoscale. It will take us from biological and environmental
systems all the way to quantum computing.
This investment will strengthen critical fields and
help to establish the science and engineering infrastructure
and workforce in this area.
I also want to stress the connections between the initiatives.
For example, we often say you need nano-tech to go
farther in info-tech. You may recall a line from the
President's the State of the Union Address.
"molecular computers the size of a tear drop with
the power of today's fastest supercomputers."
That's not science fiction. This illustration comes
from the work of Jim Heath at UCLA and Stan Williams
at Hewlett Packard. It aims to build electronic circuits
from the bottom-up, starting at the molecular level.
The beauty of this approach is that it could transform
the process of fabricating chips. We know Moore's
law will run out of physics and chemistry in a decade
When the size of features on individual chip components
drops below 100 nanometers, we'll be left with little
room for error. A wire misplaced by just a few tenths
of nanometers could cause a circuit to fail.
This approach is fundamentally different. It lays down
millions of wires and switches. Then, it electronically
configures the best connections.
Science magazine compares this to the way the developing
brain strengthens active neural connections while
allowing inactive ones to wither away.
It's still a long way from practically. But, who knows?
We may just see molecular circuits in our lifetimes.
Biocomplexity in the Environment
Like the ITR initiative, the Biocomplexity in the Environment
Initiative has gotten off to a great start.
We've had special competitions in FY99 and 2000 that
focused on bringing together interdisciplinary teams
to model the complexity that arises from the interaction
of biological, physical and social systems.
In FY2001, we will be able to greatly enhance this
framework. One area we see as especially promising
is geomicrobiology -- which means examining the Earth's
crust as a microbial habitat.
This research should lead to a greater understanding
of a range of phenomena, from the recovery of secondary
oil supplies to the bioremediation of contaminated
This initiative also addresses NSF's overall role in
environmental science and technology. The environment
is an issue of profound national importance, as well
as scientific interest. It remains a strategic priority
for the Foundation.
Its importance was recently affirmed by the NSB Task
Force on the Environment, a report which has just
been approved and released. It recommended substantial
increases for environmental research, education and
Biocomplexity is the key to understanding the environment.
A biocomplexity-based approach to investigations of
the environment will provide a more complete understanding
of natural processes and the effects of human behavior
and decisions on the natural world.
Major Research Equipment
I mentioned earlier that we have two new starts in
our investments in tools.
In the Major Research Equipment account we will add
over $45 million. This includes starting two new projects,
and providing increases to ongoing projects.
One is EarthScope, which is really two projects in
one: the USArray and San Andreas Fault Observatory
at Depth (SAFOD). As the name implies, SAFOD/USArray
is an array of instruments that will allow scientists
to observe earthquake and other earth processes at
much higher resolution.
The other new start is NEON - the National Ecological
Observatory Network. NEON is a pole-to-pole network
with a state-of-the-art infrastructure of platforms
and equipment to enable 21st Century ecological
and biocomplexity research.
In addition, we'll be providing support to a number
of continuing projects in the MRE account: South Pole
Station modernization, the Terascale computing system,
the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation,
the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and the Millimeter
Here are a few other highlights from across the Foundation.
EPSCoR: Funding for EPSCoR (the Experimental Program
to Stimulate Competitive Research) will reach up to
This includes $48 million provided through the Education
and Human Resources appropriation, and we expect roughly
$20 million in additional funding through the Research
and Related Activities account.
As has been occurring for several years, this will
enable EPSCoR researchers to participate more fully
in research activities across the Foundation.
For plant genomics, Mr. Chairman, NSF is requesting
a total of $102 million for investments in plant genome
research, an increase of $22.5 million or 22% over
last year. This investment will accelerate our understanding
of basic biological processes in plants, paying particular
attention to economically significant crops.
Finally, I just want to mention that NSF and NASA are
developing a new partnership, and we'll be involving
the Department of Energy as well. We've always had
a close working relationship, and you can expect to
see an increased emphasis on joint activities.
We are looking forward in the coming months to being
able to jointly announce some major findings about
the structure of the early universe.
Together, NSF and NASA are taking the science of measurement,
analysis, and exploration to new extremes - from Earth
to deep space, and from Antarctica to the beginnings
of the universe. Stay tuned for more on this score.
Conclusion: Celebrating 50 Years
I'd like to close with a few words about the Foundation's
50th Anniversary. This budget proposal carries special
significance in the context of NSF's history. It is
a record setting increase. And, best of all, it is
a budget that reflects the lessons of history.
It focuses on national priorities, as it should. But,
this investment also recognizes that one of our highest
national priorities must always be to stay at the
leading-edge of science and engineering research and
education across the board. Over half of the increased
funding is just for that.
You see here the poster for our 50th Anniversary celebration
- NSF50 as we call it. Whenever we tell the story
of NSF, we cite the benefits of fundamental research.
It's a familiar list: MRIs, lasers, the Internet,
Doppler radar, and countless others.
These advances draw upon a multitude of disciplines.
We know MRIs emerged from chemistry and physics, but
we forget that they never would have become what they
are without advanced mathematics. Doppler radar pushed
the limits of atmospheric science, information science,
and engineering - and opened up new frontiers in each.
We also have found that our support for graduate education
has been crucial to all of these areas. That's why
we have made such a strong investment in shoring up
We'll be working across the Foundation to increase
grant size and duration, to involve more students
in research, and to bring in more young investigators.
History has taught us time and again that there is
no better way to invest in the future.
In closing -- we couldn't ask for a better way to mark
NSF's 50th Anniversary. With all of you, working together,
we can get NSF's second 50 years off to a great start.