Dr. Rita R. Colwell
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
FY 2000 Budget Briefing
February 1, 1999
Greetings, good afternoon, and many thanks to all of
you for joining us.
I guess the secret is out. We are pleased with the
support we have received from the administration.
This is an excellent budget at the starting gate in
what was (and remains) a very difficult budget environment.
It's worth noting right at the outset that caps on
discretionary spending left very little room for expansion
across the government.
Non-defense discretionary spending for FY 2000 is about
$28 billion below the FY 1999 level. That's a 13 percent
Thus, a 6 percent increase for NSF is a true testament
to the Administration's commitment to investing in
I am truly grateful for the support NSF received from
OMB and OSTP throughout the budget process to date.
Before I turn to details of the budget, I'd like to
say a few words about how the NSF fits into the overall
R&D environment of our country.
When we step back and examine the context for science
and engineering in America, a number of trends emerge,
that deserve our attention. A plethora of reports
and studies have been asking tough, "real life" questions:
- Are we ready for the 21st Century?
- Will the U.S. remain a leader in science and technology?
- Are we headed in the right direction?
Based on current trends, these remain questions to
ponder and to wrestle with.
Total National R&D
In the biannual compilation of Science and Engineering
Indicators, the National Science Board put this
quite succinctly. It wrote: "The nation's S&E
enterprise is undergoing changes in structure and
priorities as we prepare to enter the next century."
This is borne out when we look at the national picture.
R&D funding patterns have changed substantially.
- The good news is that total national R&D funding
has never been higher. It now amounts to more
than $200 billion.
- The not-so-good-news is that the federal government
has been steadily losing ground to industry as
a source of R&D funds.
- In 1997, the federal government provided 30 percent
of all R&D funds in the US.
- That's the lowest level since we started collecting
- A decade ago, the federal share was 46 percent.
- Three decades ago, the federal share was 60 percent.
The Council on Competitiveness took stock of the national
R&D picture in the Going Global report it released
last September, only a few months ago.
The Council consists of CEOs, R&D managers, and top
officials from over 120 leading corporations, universities,
and government agencies.
What they say is worth listening to. They came to a
clear consensus on the need for increased public investment
in fundamental research and education.
"For the past 50 years, most, if not all, of the
technological advances have been directly linked
to improvements in fundamental understanding.
Investment in discovery research creates the seedcorn
for future innovation. Government at all levels
is the mainstay of the nation's investment in
science and engineering research...."
The Council went on to add that:
"Most [industrial] R&D managers are investing with
an eye on the bottom line, but more than a handful
wonder from where the next generation of breakthrough
technologies will come."
The Vice President addressed this point in his address
at last week's AAAS meeting in California. He stressed
that the government must support "the long-term investments
that most companies can't afford to make."
Let me mention one other trend related to these long-term
investments that is causing concern among many of
Our Division of Science Resources Studies has taken
a close look at the mix of Federal research funding
across different fields of science and engineering.
Over the past 25-plus years, the mix has changed significantly
and dramatically -- primarily through gains in biomedical
fields and declines in the physical sciences and engineering.
- In 1970, the life sciences accounted for 29 percent
of Federal research spending. By 1997, their share
had risen to 43 percent. Put another way, the
share increased by half.
- Engineering, by contrast, saw its share decline
by 12 percentage points over the same period,
falling from 31 percent to 19 percent of the Federal
- The share going to the physical sciences dropped
by more than five points -- from 19 percent to
14 percent of the total portfolio.
The combination effect is just as significant. Engineering
and the physical sciences -- taken together -- accounted
for 50 percent of federal research spending in 1970.
That's down to 33 percent today -- a drop from half
of the total to just one third.
I'd be the first to tell you about the great things
that are happening in biomedical fields. Some of that
funding has gone to my own research.
But, I also know that society cannot live by biomedical
This trend, in fact, concerns many in the medical sciences.
Harold Varmus discussed it in the plenary address
he delivered at the AAAS meeting one year ago in Philadelphia.
That's the meeting where I found out I was getting
a new job.
Harold, much to his credit, took the bull by the horns
and talked about the dependence of biology and medicine
on other fields of science. In his words:
"Most of the revolutionary changes that have occurred
in biology and medicine are rooted in new methods.
Those, in turn, are usually rooted in fundamental
discoveries in many different fields."
Harold then went on to cite laser surgery, CAT scans,
fiber optic viewing, ECHOcardiography, and fetal sonograms
as examples of these revolutionary advances.
This brings us to why we are here today. NSF is the
fulcrum for all of science and engineering. NSF is
the only agency whose mission covers research in all
fields of science and engineering, as well as education
at all levels -- cradle to grave, practically speaking.
We support the fundamental work that benefits the work
of the mission agencies down the line. For this reason,
it is important that we continue working together
-- as a community -- to support investments that reach
all fields and disciplines.
Let me turn now to the budget...Our total funding is
closing in on a $4 billion milestone. The FY 2000
request comes to $3.95 billion, which represents a
5.8 percent increase over the current level.
This is an outstanding result given the constraints
imposed by the spending caps.
Funding by Appropriations
Let's look at the five appropriations accounts.
- Research and Related Activities increases by
nearly 7 percent; a very important step up.
- Education and Human Resources increases by 3.2
percent. This will allow us to sustain our innovative
base of activities and plant few new seeds, as
- There is a small change in the level for Major
- And, the administrative accounts will receive
modest, but critically valuable increases. These
are the operating funds that make it possible
for our workforce to deal with an ever-increasing
workload, to do the job that makes NSF the superb
agency that it is.
Key Program Functions
Another perspective on the budget can be obtained by
looking at Key Program Functions.
The Administration agreed with us when we said loudly
and clearly that research investments deserve the
highest priority...and the positive response we got
is reflected in the 8 percent increase for research
The initiatives that I'll discuss in a moment are driving
much of this increase, but they are by no means the
The budget, as requested, continues to place priority
on our ongoing efforts to address grant size and duration,
to put increased emphasis on funding rates for new
This is in the performance plan we developed under
the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).
IT and the Economy
As the Vice President announced at the AAAS meeting
last week, the major new investment in this budget
is in information technology.
The rationale is both obvious and clear. As Internet
growth has gone through the roof, IT has become essential
fuel for the nation's economic engine.
IT2 (Government Wide)
This has led to the government-wide initiative: Information
Technology for the 21st Century - IT2
as it's called.
Across the government, IT2 will total $366
million across six agencies. Sixty percent of this
will go to support university-based research. That's
the real win-win for America.
The academic research investment works double duty,
as it armors and enables students with advanced IT
NSF & IT2
NSF is the lead agency for IT2. This was
recommended last fall by the PITAC, and we are glad
to accept this responsibility.
In keeping with the goals of the overall IT2
program, NSF will emphasize three sets of activities:
- First is fundamental IT research -- at $100 million.
This will focus on a key assessment from PITAC's
report. For all of our ability to push the high-end
in computing, no one really understands how all
the pieces work together.
- The need right now is to improve both reliability
and performance, and we can achieve this by understanding
how systems interact and gaining new knowledge
of the working whole.
- The request also includes $36 million for a terascale
computing system. This will serve the science
and engineering community, including computer
- Finally, we'll take advantage of the fact that
NSF's portfolio includes both the information
sciences and the social, behavioral and economic
- There is $10 million for research on the societal,
ethical, and workforce impacts of emerging technologies.
I should add that IT2 covers only a portion
of NSF's overall investment in the larger realm of
Support for all information technology efforts across
the Foundation -- including IT2 and other
information-based activities -- totals approximately
$830 million -- nearly a billion dollars -- in the
FY 2000 request.
When people ask me, why should NSF and the United States
invest in information technologies -- and why now
-- I say it is an absolute must.
It's not a national initiative; it's a national imperative.
It's a classic example of a long-term investment in
fundamental research that works for the common good,
in fact, the global good.
For this reason, IT2 represents an investment
that will strengthen the entire research and education
It will deliver tools and capabilities that will benefit
every field, every discipline, and every level of
When we connect classrooms to the Internet, students
can participate in the discovery process -- like these
young students at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy
They used the 'net to link to an NSF-supported observatory
and discovered a previously unidentified asteroid
in the Kuiper Belt.
When we bring faster computers to weather forecasting,
we save lives, we protect buildings and crops, and
more -- by getting better advance warning of El Niño's,
tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe events.
My own research on climate and infectious diseases
(El Niņo and cholera) has made this dramatically clear
The possibilities are limitless. We tackle the toughest
challenges in science and engineering, and we put
high-octane fuel in this great engine of job creation
Biocomplexity in the Environment
This same sense of imperative comes through in the
second priority outlined in the request -- Biocomplexity
in the Environment -- or BE as we call it.
A number of us have been developing this new approach
to understanding our world over the past few months.
The best part is that we are not alone. A Nature
article noted this month that a number of leading
U.S. universities are planning centers that link the
physical and biological sciences.
As the director of the new center at Princeton, Shirley
Tilghman, was quoted as saying, "Biology has thrived
in the past 50 years by taking things apart and identifying
She and many of us think it's time now to study how
things come together. That's why we are putting $50
million into this biocomplexity initiative, and we
are increasing support for a number of related activities
One reason it's time to tackle this task is that we
now have the ability, the technologies, to grasp the
complexity of our environment.
From computational algorithms to mathematical models,
from remote sensing to new kinds of sensors, and of
course to genome sequencing and the molecular basis
of metabolism and heredity. The technologies have
arrived, as have the opportunities in research.
Educating for the Future
Our third major priority for FY 2000 is education,
reflected in our investments under the theme of Educating
for the Future.
We are building a strong link between graduate education
and K-12 teaching via a new graduate teaching fellows
It may seem small at only $7.5 million, but it is an
important beginning potential impact well beyond the
dollars. It will broaden graduate education, and boost
the science, engineering, and technology content in
We are also providing $13 million to develop the National
Science, Mathematical, Engineering, and Technology
Education Digital Library -- NSDL for short.
This will serve as an important national resource for
K-12 and undergraduate education, by providing wide
access to standards-based materials and learning tools.
The theme that, in many ways, defines NSF -- Integration
of Research and Education -- continues to receive
very high priority in the request. Our favorite...and
familiar...acronyms -- IGERT, REU, CAREER -- all receive
As part of last year's immigration legislation, approximately
$33 million from the processing fees for H1-B Visas
came to NSF.
We are using (well, I may add) to support an array
of scholarships and systemic projects aimed at developing
a technological workforce for the 21st century.
I'll just mention a few other highlights before closing.
The Plant Genome Research Program will increase by
$5 million to $55 million. This builds on an existing
research base of $20 million -- bringing the total
investment to $75 million.
This will provide the scientific underpinning in the
future for improved nutritional content of our food
and improved crops, both in quality and yields.
A new start is the NEES -- the Network for Earthquake
Engineering Simulation. We are providing $8 million
in FY 2000 toward a total investment of $82 million
over the next five years.
This will lead to a national, fully interconnected
network of major earthquake research facilities. Truly
a fine example of basic research that will provide
information to address a societal need.
Finally, we continue investments in a number of major
infrastructure projects, including modernization of
the South Pole Station and the detectors for the Large
Fundamental research that will spin-off as yet unknown
benefits but clearly will help us understand the universe
of which we are an important, even though humble,
By its very nature, a budget for the first year of
a new millennium takes on added significance. That
applies doubly so to NSF. The year 2000 marks the
50th Anniversary of the National Science Foundation.
Given the increase we have received in this very tight
budget environment, it clear that this is a "golden
This is also an appropriate time to step back and think
about the long-term importance of investments in science
The budget process doesn't often allow long- term thinking.
I am told that long-range planning in Washington means
thinking about your next press conference.
That makes it really hard to make a case for investment
in our children's future, but now is the time to make
that case with fierce intensity.
Consider this: one hundred years ago, one could say
society was at a similar, perhaps better phrased,
a familiar turning point for science and technology:
- Mendel's work on heredity was being rediscovered.
- Marie Curie, Max Plank, and others were changing
our understanding of matter and opening the door
to quantum mechanics and following-up on Roentgen's
discovery of X-rays.
- (Einstein, by contrast, was just beginning his
career as a patent examiner.)
When we look back 50 years, to the time when NSF was
opening its doors...
- Watson and Crick were discovering the structure
of DNA was a double helix (using Rosalind Franklin's
data, I may add).
- And, the team at Bell Labs was developing the
Today, our world has been transformed by these discoveries.
We are only beginning to understand the promises and
the challenges brought by the revolutions in biotech
and info tech.
We are sequencing entire genomes, mapping the farthest
reaches of the universe, and bringing advanced technology
to virtually every home, office, and classroom.
Rather than mark the culmination of our efforts, they
are a beginning...these achievements will lead us
to new frontiers -- and to a new relationship between
science, engineering, and society.
For this reason, it is appropriate to close with a
quote from a recent work to guide us on our road to
this new century.
Some of you may have read, What Remains to be Discovered,
by John Maddox, the former editor of Nature.
It was published just last year.
Maddox began his work by assessing the amazing pace
of progress in science and technology during the 19th
century. This provides an insightful bit of historical
perspective. To use his words: "For science and technology,
the nineteenth century was certainly the best there
had ever been. Only now do we know it was merely a
Here at the end of the 20th century, we should be even
more emphatic than John Maddox. What we have seen
to date is more than merely a beginning.
This is a dawning -- a new era of exploration. We have
the power and the responsibility to see that it brings
a sustainable planet, an improved standard of living,
a top-notch educational system, and a brighter future
This FY 2000 budget request is an excellent first step
toward realizing these goals.
I look forward to working with all of you -- as we
make the case for these investments, and work to achieve
the goals we share as a community and as a nation.