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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
2001 American Association of Engineering Societies
Government Affairs Conference

May 7, 2001

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[title slide]
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Good morning to all of you. I'm delighted to be here today to talk about the National Science Foundation's research and education priorities for the coming fiscal year. I always find it a pleasure to talk with engineers - and it's not just because I am an engineer, though I'm sure that has something to do with it.

You know, I've heard it said that a good engineer is like a good film director. She works behind the scenes. She gets the best performance possible from the managers, who always take center stage. Her creative contribution is never adequately appreciated, and is seldom understood. It's time to bring engineers into the limelight!

So let me begin by thanking you for getting "off the bench and inside the beltway." Your support for fundamental research and education has a huge impact. You speak with a knowledgeable and credible voice about the nation's research and education needs. I'm confident that your ideas will resonate when you make the case for these investments.

The National Science Foundation aims at nothing less than U.S. world leadership in science, engineering, and technology. That's what we're about, and our budget priorities reflect that mission - in both research and education, and their integration.

[NSF Vision Statement]
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I want to set my remarks within the context of the NSF vision statement. It's direct and crisp:

"Enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation."

Not too long ago, the vision statement would have focused only on discovery. Now we include learning and innovation on an equal footing. The boundaries that once separated discovery, learning, and innovation are known now not to be as distinct as they once were thought to be. There is more forthright coupling among them and constant interaction.

[NSF Outcome Goals: People, Ideas, Tools]
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We've developed a set of goals to complement the NSF vision, a sharply focused set on which we can focus our investments, and by which we can be held accountable. We call these People, Ideas, and Tools.

You'll notice that People are at the top of the list. That's intentional. NSF is as much about building a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. Although we continually break new ground with the research we support, we need people to carry forward the continual process of discovery and innovation.

I want to emphasize this point. At NSF, we're putting a renewed focus on preparing the science, engineering and technology workforce. Now that knowledge has become the most sought after commodity in the world, knowledge workers - scientists, mathematicians, engineers, educators - will be increasingly in high demand.

We all know the trends. While degrees in engineering, the physical sciences, and math and computer sciences are either static or declining in the U.S., other nations are boosting degrees in all these fields. They're increasing their investments in research and education and they're providing incentives to keep their best students at home. A 24-year-old in Japan is three times more likely to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering than one in the U.S.

Of course, Ideas, the new knowledge that is powering innovation and productivity in our economy today, will always be central to everything NSF does. And, finally, we need sophisticated Tools to advance the frontiers in nearly every field.

[NSF Core Strategies]
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We've adopted three core strategies to accomplish these goals. These are: develop intellectual capital, integrate research and education, and promote partnerships.

This is where the rubber hits the road. It's where we design the solutions to get the job done effectively.

I've made this jaunt through NSF planning territory for a reason. As I give you the details of the NSF FY 2002 budget request, I'd like you to keep NSF's vision, goals and strategies in mind. We may not always have the resources that we want. But we can use the resource we have in a thoughtful and strategic way to realize our objectives.

Now, on to the budget.

[Budget summary]
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Here's the big picture. NSF is requesting a total of $4.47 billion - that's $56 million more, or a 1.3-percent increase, above FY 2001. Funding levels for each of NSF's appropriation accounts at the FY 2002 Request and FY 2001 Current Plan levels are shown in this chart.

I'll move right to the top priorities in NSF's budget request for FY 2002.

[Science & Math Partnerships]
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At the center of NSF's budget request is an initial $200 million dollar downpayment on a five year, $1 billion dollar investment in the nation's youngsters. This will be used to strengthen and reform K-12 science and math education.

We are pleased that the President has asked NSF to lead the Math and Science Partnerships program as part of the No Child Left Behind education initiative. NSF will fund states and local school districts to join with institutions of higher education.

We're asking scientists, mathematicians, and engineers at universities and colleges to work with K-12 educators to achieve some very ambitious goals. The Partnerships program aims to strengthen math and science standards, improve curricula and textbooks, and raise the quality of teacher professional development.

But the program doesn't stop there. We hope to eliminate the performance gap between majority and minority students, and reach under-served schools and students in creative ways.

In a similar vein, NSF's budget addresses another major roadblock in developing a 21st century workforce: the number of citizens attracted to careers in science and engineering - particularly from underrepresented minorities.

A recent study found that 57 percent of bachelor's degree recipients did not apply to science and engineering graduate programs for financial reasons. The average stipend for graduate students in these fields is less than half the average wage for those who start working as soon as they receive their undergraduate degrees.

[Graduate Fellowships]
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We need to remedy this situation. NSF is requesting $8 million dollars to increase graduate stipends for Fellows in a number of NSF programs. The stipends would increase from $18,000 to $20,500. That's a good beginning, but we want to see this figure increase even more in the near years ahead, say on the order of $25 to $30 thousand dollars.

[Interdisciplinary Mathematics]
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Now, let me move on to NSF's $20 million dollar Interdisciplinary Mathematics program. It's the centerpiece of our core investments in FY 2002. The program aims to strengthen fundamental research in mathematics, and at the same time, to enhance its contributions to other fields. By focusing these investments at the frontiers of the biological, physical, engineering, and social sciences, we can do both.

This investment will bring cutting-edge mathematics to bear on problems in the physical, biological, engineering, and social sciences. It will help us develop models of complex non-linear systems, and predict their behavior.

[Priority Areas]
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We're also continuing to support key emerging capabilities. These are priority areas that hold exceptional promise to advance knowledge. The FY 2002 focuses on four of these.

[Biocomplexity in the Environment]
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Let me begin with a priority area we call Biocomplexity in the Environment. The term "biocomplexity" refers to the dynamic web of relationships that arise when living things at all levels - from cells to ecosystems - interact with their environment, both natural and human-made.

Recent advances have allowed us to investigate these connections in a way that was never possible before. We now have a better toolkit: real time sensors, powerful computers, and genomics. These are opening up the possibility of forecasting the outcomes of those interactions.

That's vital if we're going to understand the impact of humans on the environment and vice versa. Advances in this field can pave the way for the design of cleaner and more efficient industrial processes, and new technologies for waste avoidance.

[Information Technology Research]
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Another NSF priority area is Information Technology Research. NSF funding will deepen fundamental research on software, networking, scalability and communications that will take us to the next generation of applications.

We'll also expand research in multidisciplinary areas, where the power of IT can be put to use to make rapid progress in advancing the frontiers of discovery. The impact of IT on molecular biology and medicine is a striking example of how this can work. Without fundamental research in IT, the delineation of the human genome, with all the promise that holds for human health, would still be in our future instead of our past.

[Nanoscale Science & Engineering]
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That's a good lead-in to NSF's third priority area - Nanoscale Science and Engineering. If IT can give us the capability to do things three orders of magnitude faster, nanotechnology will let us work on a scale three orders of magnitude smaller.

Research in this priority area explores phenomena at molecular and atomic scales. That's in a range where nano-designed machines meet individual living cells, and we can begin to envision targeted drug delivery systems and electronic biosensors to detect cancer in its earliest stages.

At the nanoscale, systems of atoms and molecules exhibit novel properties - ones we can begin to exploit in the design of new materials - for quantum computing, for example, or in the development of materials for tissues and organ implants, or entirely new paradigms for manufacturing with wealth creation heretofore unimaginable.

Let me emphasize that last point. At the nanoscale, we have to make things. That promises an entirely new manufacturing enterprise.

It's no wonder that this field of research is one of the most competitive in the world. Although the U.S. has substantially increased its overall investment in nanotechnology, Asian and European investments have kept pace. Current estimates put the U.S. share of nanotechnology investment between 25 and 30 percent of the world total. NSF's investment will strengthen U.S. leadership and boost efforts to build a nanotech-ready workforce.

[Learning for the 21st Century]
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The final priority area I'll mention is a group of related activities we call Learning for the 21st Century. Today, science, engineering and technology workers need skills that better suit the realities of an economy and society based on knowledge and innovation.

Fortunately, there's been tremendous progress in research in a range of fields collectively referred to as cognition: cognitive neuroscience, computational linguistics, human and computer interactions, and learning environments. The time is ripe to bring these fields together to develop a better understanding of how humans and other species learn.

[Where Discoveries Begin]
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Let me conclude my remarks by highlighting a few key points. An economy rooted in science, engineering, and technology can't sustain itself without a vibrant basic research enterprise and a world class cadre of scientists and engineers. Expanding the pool of science and engineering talent requires giving youngsters every chance to succeed and encouraging them to choose careers in these fields.

It also means lifting the capabilities of our core disciplines through our priority investments while striking out in new directions at the frontiers of research and education. And it means creating and nurturing our partnerships among industry, academe, and government.

I'll stop there, because that's where you come in. Let me thank you again for your leadership.



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