National Science Foundation Fiscal Year 1996 Budget Request Overview

National Science Foundation Fiscal Year 1996 Budget Request Overview

  • FY 1996 Request = $3,360 million
  • The Return on Investments in NSF
  • Conclusions

    FY 1996 Request = $3,360 million

    NSF's investments in research and education strengthen and help secure the nation's capability to excel in science and engineering. As a principal supporter of fundamental research conducted at colleges and universities and of mathematics, science, and engineering education, NSF helps to provide the nation with both the base of advanced knowledge and the highly skilled workforce needed to pursue and capitalize on opportunities in science and technology.

    NSF's FY 1996 request is shown in Figure 1.

    The Return on Investments in NSF

    There is general consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society (i.e., well over 20 percent). At a recent conference conducted jointly by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, many top researchers, including former Council of Economic Advisers Chairs Michael Boskin and Charles Schultze, agreed that research and development has a significant and important positive effect on economic growth and living standards. Furthermore, the activities supported by NSF -- namely fundamental research and education based at academic institutions -- are generally viewed as among the most productive of all Federal investments. Figure 1 NSF FY 1996 Budget Request (Dollars in Millions)

    NSF's FY 1996 request is shown in Figure 1.

    1 $35 million available for LIGO in FY 1994 within R&RA was rescinded and restored in the FY 1995 plan within MRE. Total new budget authority for NSF in FY 1995 is $3.228 billion. 2 Assumes proposed rescission of $131.87 million in ARI.

    In recent years, NSF's investments have enabled numerous important advances that have extended the frontiers of knowledge, contributed to addressing many of the nation's most pressing concerns and priorities, and provided education and training opportunities for the science and engineering workforce.

    NSF has worked in partnership with NASA and other organizations to support research on the collision between Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter. Researchers using NSF-supported supercomputing resources predicted the time and place of the individual collisions. Images of the impacts have been made widely available via electronic networks to researchers, teachers, and the general public. Astronomers and planetary scientists supported by NSF and NASA continue to analyze data from the collisions to determine the long- term effects on Jupiter's atmosphere and structure as well as how such collisions might have influenced the Earth's development.

    Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) -- mixtures of sensors, motors, and computers that can fit on the head of a pin -- have emerged as a valuable commercial technology thanks in large part to NSF's timely support of fundamental research. The current market for MEMS devices is estimated to exceed $1 billion, and the automobile industry now uses MEMS devices in airbags and electronic ignition systems. Support provided through NSF's engineering activities led to the first micro-motors and other crucial advances.

    NSF's leadership in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology education has enabled 25 states, 25 urban areas, six rural regions, and scores of colleges and universities to plan for and, in many instances, initiate total system reform efforts. These efforts are based on the premise that all students can achieve at much higher levels than at present.

    Research in mathematical economics supported by NSF has yielded new insights into the dynamics of competition in the marketplace. The Federal Communications Commission drew upon these insights when designing the auctions to allocate licenses for use of the electromagnetic spectrum -- auctions that have netted billions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury.

    Through its FY 1996 budget request, NSF will continue to seek the most promising and highest quality investments in research and education. The roughly 20,000 projects NSF supports annually are selected strictly on the basis of merit and cover all disciplines of the sciences and engineering and all levels of education. The research and education community has direct input into NSF's funding decisions; this year, for example, over 60,000 researchers and educators are expected to participate in the process of reviewing proposals submitted to the Foundation.

    In addition, NSF employs a variety of mechanisms to increase the return on the nation's investments in research and education -- including fostering industry/university/government partnerships and state/Federal partnerships in research and education, supporting multidisciplinary approaches to solving complex problems, participating in interagency activities coordinated by the National Science and Technology Council, and promoting international cooperation and cost-sharing.

    NSF's Investment Goals

    The Administration's August 1994 report, Science in the National Interest, outlined a policy framework for all Federal investments in fundamental science, mathematics, and engineering. The report stressed that "America's future demands investment in our people, institutions, and ideas. Science is an essential part of this investment, an endless and sustainable resource with extraordinary dividends."

    Consistent with the Administration's policy framework, the NSF has developed a strategic plan that was endorsed by the National Science Board in October of 1994. The plan identifies a course of action in keeping with the Foundation's long-standing tradition of excellence and its commitment to working in partnership with other organizations dedicated to advancing science and engineering.

    The plan sets forth three broad goals to help guide the agency's investments:

    Enable the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in science, mathematics, and engineering.

    Promote the discovery, integration, dissemination, and employment of new knowledge in service to society.

    Achieve excellence in U.S. science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education at all levels.

    Upholding World Leadership. NSFs first goal -- enable the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in science, mathematics, and engineering -- serves as the agency's capstone goal. NSF's programs are essential to upholding U.S. world leadership because they sustain what is truly the nucleus of the nation's scientific enterprise -- basic research conducted at academic institutions and education in engineering and the sciences. This support produces both the new knowledge and the talented people that enable the U.S. to realize opportunities in science and technology.

    While NSF accounts for only 3 percent of total Federal spending for R&D, it provides nearly one-half of all Federal support for non- medical basic research performed by colleges and universities, and roughly 30 percent of total Federal support for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. Furthermore, in many core scientific disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, biology, and the geosciences, NSF is the dominant source of Federal support for university basic research, as Figure 2 illustrates. Figure 2 Upholding World Leadership NSF Share of Total Federal Support for Basic Research at Academic Institutions and for Mathematics and Science Education

    NSF Share of Total Federal Support for Basic Research at Academic Institutions and for Mathematics and Science Education is shown in Figure 2.

    NSF's FY 1996 request includes a balanced set of investments that will help uphold the agency's leadership role in fundamental research and education. The Foundation's request for Research and Related Activities would increase by 8 percent over the 1995 level to a total of $2,454 million. NSF is also seeking nearly $600 million for its Education and Human Resources activity, $70 million for Major Research Equipment, and $100 million for investments in Academic Research Infrastructure.

    Knowledge In Service to Society. NSF employs a variety of mechanisms that help all Americans reap the benefits resulting from advances in science and engineering, in keeping with the agency's second goal of advancing knowledge in service to society. In recent years, NSF has increased its emphasis on industry/academe partnerships to improve knowledge transfer between the different sectors and better prepare students of science and engineering for careers in industry and government. NSF's support for advanced computing and networking has helped make tools and resources such as the Internet and the World Wide Web available to anyone with a personal computer.

    Another mechanism NSF employs to promote the discovery and integration of knowledge in service to society is the support of research and education in strategic areas of national priority. In FY 1996, nearly two-thirds of the agency's support for fundamental research and education can be related to seven broadly-defined areas where advances in fundamental research and education are necessary to address key challenges facing the nation. These areas include the Advanced Materials and Processing Program, Biotechnology, Civil Infrastructure Systems, Environment and Global Change, High Performance Computing and Communications, Manufacturing, and Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education. As is shown in Figure 3, NSF expects to increase its total investment in these areas by more than $85 million in FY 1996. NSF works closely with other Federal agencies to define priorities in these areas. Figure 3 Basic Research and Education in Strategic Areas (Millions of Dollars)

    Basic Research and Education in Strategic Areas is shown in Figure 3.

    NSF also gives special emphasis to emerging areas of science and engineering that show great promise for advancing fundamental knowledge and for spurring economic and social progress. In this budget request, areas receiving additional focus include optical science and engineering, environmentally conscious design and manufacturing, the development of human capital, research on water and watersheds, and arctic research.

    Achieving Excellence in Education. To achieve excellence in U.S. science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education, NSF supports programs at all educational levels -- from preschool to the postgraduate level. These programs aim to engage all students in science -- not just those who will become scientists, engineers, technicians, and teachers -- so that they can gain the scientific and technological literacy needed to function and prosper in our increasingly technology-based society. These programs also place great emphasis on evaluation in order to track their progress and identify promising projects for widespread dissemination.

    As is shown in Figure 4, over the past five years NSF has greatly increased its investment in a number of systemic reform activities that foster comprehensive change at the city, state, regional, and national level. The underlying premise of these activities is that to attain world class standards in mathematics and science education, we must replace isolated and piecemeal reform efforts with more ambitious, coordinated approaches that involve many aspects of the system. The potential impact of this approach has become apparent. Less than five years ago, for example, NSF began supporting a national effort to reform the teaching of calculus. One of the major projects under this effort began as a consortium of eight institutions, but the materials developed through it are now in use on over 300 campuses and reach over 20% of the undergraduate students enrolled in introductory calculus. Figure 4 Support for Systemic Reform (Millions of Dollars)

    Support for Systemic Reform is shown in Figure 4.

    Core Programmatic Strategies

    To help reach each of its three goals, the NSF has identified four core strategies for its programs in research and education:

    Develop Intellectual Capital Strengthen the Physical Infrastructure Integrate Research and Education Promote Partnerships

    These four strategies provide specific direction for NSF's proposed investments to help realize the agency's long-term goals.

    Develop Intellectual Capital. Virtually all of NSF's programs help to develop and strengthen the nation's "intellectual capital." NSF's investments expand the reservoir of science and engineering knowledge, talent, and ideas, creating a valuable resource for our entire society. These investments contribute to the intellectual growth of talented scientists and engineers, and they provide opportunities for young people to work on projects at the cutting edge of science and engineering.

    As is shown in Figure 5, the projects supported by NSF will involve an estimated 210,000 scientists, mathematicians, engineers, teachers, and students in FY 1996. This includes professional scientists and engineers engaged in research and teaching, recipients of NSF graduate and postdoctoral fellowships and traineeships, students at the graduate, undergraduate, and high school level participating in research projects, and other activities, such as secondary school students attending summer science camps. Figure 5 Numbers of People Involved in NSF Activities

    Numbers of People Involved in NSF Activities is shown in Figure 5.

    NSF also recognizes that to develop intellectual capital, it must draw upon a pool of ideas and talent that is as diverse and inclusive as possible. For this reason, NSF supports many programs -- including the Alliances for Minority Participation, the Visiting Professorships for Women, and Minority Postdoctoral Fellowships -- that aim to attract more women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to the science and engineering workforce. The Alliances for Minority Participation program (AMP), for example, has established the far- reaching goal of generating a nearly four-fold increase in the number of minority students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. The 20 AMP consortia, the oldest of which has been in operation for less than three years, have already produced a net increase of 1,500 baccalaureate science and engineering degrees awarded to students from underrepresented groups of the population.

    Strengthen the Physical Infrastructure. Extending the frontiers of science and engineering requires advanced facilities, specialized equipment, highly-technical instruments, and effective logistical support. The infrastructure investments supported by NSF enable scientists and engineers to see farther into the universe and deeper into the structure of matter and living systems, while offering students and faculty the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies and conduct research in unique settings, such as the polar regions.

    NSF's infrastructure investments comprise a balanced portfolio that includes large facilities such as astronomical observatories, particle accelerators, and research vessels as well as smaller, "table-top" instruments that are often developed and customized by scientists and engineers as part of their ongoing research. Key infrastructure investments in NSF's FY 1996 request include:

    Continuing Construction of LIGO -- The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. When operational in 2001, LIGO will be the first large-scale facility capable of detecting gravitational waves. Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein but have yet to be observed directly. NSF is seeking $70 million for its Major Research Equipment Appropriation to fund continuing construction of LIGO.

    NSF support for instrumentation and other equipment used in research projects will increase by nearly 12 percent to a total of $208 million. These investment generally yield very high returns, as instruments developed to advance fundamental research are often adapted for uses in medicine, telecommunications, and other sectors.

    In Polar Programs, funding for arctic research will increase 23% to nearly $32 million. As part of this increase, support for arctic logistics will triple, increasing by $1.5 million over the 1995 level at which it was established. The logistics funds will provide coordinated support to the increasing number of large interdisciplinary projects located in the arctic region, including the design of an ice station camp in the Beaufort Sea.

    Support for Earth Science Facilities will increase by 15% to $14 million. This includes support for the Global Seismic Network, which enables rapid analysis of earthquakes, monitoring of nuclear proliferation, and the study of thermal processes deep within the Earth.

    Other infrastructure projects receiving increases in FY 1996 include the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the Cornell Electron Storage Ring, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Supercomputer Centers, and the NSFNET. NSF's Academic Research Infrastructure program will be funded at $100 million. Construction of the Gemini Telescopes will proceed with funds appropriated for FY 1995.

    Integrate Research and Education. The best way to learn science is by doing science. Through learning experiences based on inquiry and discovery, students gain the ability to gather, analyze, and present complex information and to use advanced technologies in the workplace. For this reason, essentially everything NSF supports relates to learning at one level or another.

    NSF's FY 1996 budget employs many different mechanisms that promote the close coupling of research and education in schools, colleges, and universities. Examples include:

    Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER): NSF established the CAREER program in FY 1995 to enable NSF-supported scientists and engineers to develop their skills in both research and teaching. The awards provide a framework for junior-level university faculty to link their research projects with their teaching and mentoring responsibilities. In FY 1996, NSF expects to provide approximately $50 million for awards under the CAREER program.

    Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU): NSF's REU programs nationwide that give undergraduate students the chance to participate directly in research projects. In FY 1996, NSF expects to increase its investment in REUs by 6% to a total of almost $27 million.

    A number of programs within NSF's Education and Human Resources Account promote the effective use of technology and media for the teaching of math and science. For example, NSF supports such television programs as Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus and funds the development and distribution of teaching materials that complement the programming.

    NSF also participates in the interagency Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) initiative.

    Promote Partnerships. Partnerships are central to the Foundation's overall investment strategy. Reaching the agency's goals requires collaboration with many different partners, including the academic community, industry, elementary and secondary schools, other Federal agencies, state and local governments, international partners, and other institutions engaged in science and engineering. These partnerships improve the return on NSF's investments by forging stronger links between the agency's programs and their potential contribution to society.

    NSF's proposed investments in FY 1996 will continue to foster innovative partnerships in research and education.

    NSF's Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Computer and Information Science and Engineering Activities support the Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program. GOALI allows scientists and engineers from university and industry to work together in a variety of settings and encourages collaboration at the conceptual stage of a research project. Total support for the GOALI program is expected to increase by at least $5 million in FY 1996 to a total of approximately $15 million.

    The NSF and the Environmental Protection Agency have entered an environmental research partnership. The partnership emphasizes the support and merit review of fundamental environmental research in three areas: 1) Water and Watersheds, 2) Technology for a Sustainable Environment, and 3) Valuation and Environmental Policy. NSF is devoting over $8 million to this effort, and the combined investment by NSF and EPA exceeds $20 million.

    The 18 NSF supported Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites have initiated an International Long Term Ecological Research Network that includes representatives from 17 nations. This activity will promote global scientific collaboration and data exchange in environmental research.

    NSF's FY 1996 budget will also provide for sustained investments in other programs that foster partnerships, including Engineering Research Centers, Science and Technology Centers, and NSF's participation in government-wide initiatives coordinated by the National Science and Technology Council.

    Investments in Efficiency and Productivity

    Consistent with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and the National Performance Review (NPR), NSF is exploring and testing various mechanisms to streamline the agency's operations and improve its ability to serve the research and education community. These efforts are also intended to identify appropriate performance measures for NSF's programs in research and education.

    FinanceNet: NSF has worked closely with NPR staff to develop and coordinate FinanceNet -- a forum for exchanging ideas and promoting reinvention efforts in the financial management community.

    FastLane: FastLane is an experimental program relying on advanced information technologies, including the Internet and the World Wide Web, to redesign and streamline how NSF does business with the research and education community. Through FastLane, NSF forms are now available electronically via the Internet, and many financial transactions with the university community are conducted via electronic mail.

    Also in accordance with the GPRA, NSF has established pilot projects to develop performance measures for its programs in research and education. These projects are currently reviewing the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, the Science and Technology Centers, and Specialized Research Facilities in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The results of these pilot projects will aid in implementing performance planning on an agency- wide basis.


    It was 50 years ago -- in July of 1945 -- that Vannevar Bush, science advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, issued his short but powerful treatise, Science: The Endless Frontier, which outlined the government's appropriate role in "promoting the flow of new scientific knowledge and the development of scientific talent in our youth." While our society has undergone many changes and endured nearly a half century of cold war since those words were written, the NSF continues to fulfill this role for our society, refining and updating Bush's original vision in keeping with the nation's evolving needs.

    Today, America is moving forward into a new era. Science is now widely recognized not only as an endless frontier but also as an endless resource. In the November 1994 issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, the noted social scientist and corporate advisor Peter Drucker observed that our nation is entering a new economic order, "an economic order in which knowledge, not labor or raw material or capital, is the key resource." The ability of both nations and individuals to acquire and use knowledge, especially knowledge derived from science and technology, has become the primary determinant of our overall level of economic prosperity and social progress.

    This presents a clear challenge to the National Science Foundation. Because the NSF's core purpose is to advance knowledge in science and engineering, it can and should provide the leadership necessary to help all Americans succeed in this new era and realize the benefits brought by scientific and technological progress. The research and education programs supported by NSF enable both the nation's capability to excel in science and engineering and the ability of individuals throughout our society to pursue opportunities in science and technology.

    Through its strategic plan, the Foundation has developed an investment strategy in keeping with the growing importance of science and engineering as a national resource. NSF's FY 1996 budget request is built upon this strategy, and this investment will serve the national interest both today and well into the 21st Century.