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NSF & Congress


Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation

Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee
on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies
April 4, 2000

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Mollohan, members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify on NSF's budget request for Fiscal Year 2001. I want to begin by thanking you and the subcommittee for your consistent, bipartisan support for NSF's science and engineering activities.

The FY 2001 budget request for the National Science Foundation if enacted, would provide the largest dollar increase the Foundation has ever received. This investment will help set the stage for a new century of progress through learning and discovery.

For the coming fiscal year, the NSF requests $4.57 billion dollars. This represents a much needed increase - 17.3% overall -- over $675 million above the current level. This investment is part of the President's 21st Century Research Fund for America, and it is all about keeping the United States at the leading edge of learning and discovery.

Our nation's commitment to science, engineering and education can be seen from the very beginning of the nation. The motto on America's first coin for example - minted in 1792 - read: Liberty: Parent of Science and Industry.

That motto has just as much meaning today - in the 21st century - as it did in 1792, in an era before the advent of the steam engine. Individual scientists and engineers -supported by NSF and other federal agencies - are using their talent and their freedom to create, discover and innovate.

Increasingly these scientists and engineers, and perhaps even more important their students - are also making the jump to the private sector.

This transfer to the private sector of people - first supported by NSF at universities - should be viewed as the ultimate success of technology transfer. These talented scientists and engineers are part of the new wave of entrepreneurs creating enormous wealth in areas like information technology, biotechnology, and now in nanotechnology.

Everyday we read a news story touting the latest Internet whiz kid or biotechnology IPO. David Ignatius - in a recent column in the Washington Post - wrote about a 27-year old Stanford graduate student with a smart business plan and a hot Internet search engine with the strange name of Google.

The offbeat name is actually a reference to the complex math - actually a series of mathematical algorithms - that makes the search engine work. It involves over half a billion variables in it's complex calculations.

Google the company is an excellent example of knowledge transfer from NSF investments in people. Both of the company's two founders were computer science grad students at Stanford who studied under an NSF-funded faculty member. One of the founders received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Google's Vice President of Engineering is a computer science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and recipient of a prestigious NSF CAREER award.

Google is a great example of how fundamental research in an area like mathematics acts as the lifeblood of the IT revolution. It also shows how the unparalleled innovation system in the U.S. can quickly exploit new ideas developed in university labs and bring them to market.

This example is really just the latest in a string of NSF successes. The underlying technology for nearly all major search engines found on the web today - including Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi and specialized search engines like Congress's own THOMAS - all were begun created through NSF funded research at universities.

This trend hasn't gone unnoticed by industry. Now leaders like Alfred Berkeley, the President of the NASDAQ Stock Market and CEO's like Norm Augustine of Lockheed talk about the importance of the NSF's investments in basic research. I've included as an attachment statements they made earlier this year on the importance of NSF's investments to industry.

Mr. Chairman, NSF has recently developed a strategic plan that reflect this innovation. The investments proposed in our FY 2001 budget were crafted to address three strategic goals for the Foundation. They are:

Ideas - This includes research at and across the frontier of science and engineering, and connections to its use in service of society.

People -- We've always said that every NSF dollar is an investment in people. We cover kindergarten to career development to continuous learning.

Tools -- These are the databases, the platforms, and the facilities that keep us at the leading edge. There are some new starts in here that I will highlight in a moment.

The headliners in NSF's 2001 request are four focused initiatives. In fact, they are really national priorities: Information Technology Research, Biocomplexity, 21st Century Workforce and the emergent National Nanoscale Science and Engineering Initiative.

Nearly half our requested increase - $320 million -will support what we call the core activities. It will help us with our biggest challenge: to strengthen the core disciplines of science and engineering while moving forward in interdisciplinary areas.

NSF's investments in cutting-edge mathematics and statistics are a perfect example of how investing in core disciplines will sustain new fundamental discoveries and make interdisciplinary initiatives run on all cylinders.

The story of Google shows how mathematics has become increasingly important in ITR. We are also seeing impressive contributions to the new and emerging fields of bioinformatics, and nano-scale manufacturing. The greatest insights into AIDS have come from mathematical models of disease.

All of these advances also depend upon a workforce that is literate in science and technology. When we talk about the equation for science and society, this is a critical part.

Our nation is in the midst of one of the greatest eras of technological change in human history. In an economy driven by knowledge and ideas, how we prepare our workforce is paramount. NSF is committed to providing leadership in this critical area.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, 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 for two new starts, and to provide increases to ongoing projects.

One is NEON - the National Ecological Observatory Network: a pole-to-pole network - Arctic to Antarctic - with a state-of-the-art infrastructure of platforms and equipment to enable 21st Century science and engineering-based ecological and biocomplexity research.

The other new start is EarthScope, which is an array of instruments that will allow scientists to observe earthquake and other earth processes like volcanic eruptions at much higher resolution.

Mr. Chairman, since it's founding fifty years ago - May 10th, 1950 to be exact - the National Science Foundation has been an important and vital catalyst for discovery and innovation. From the information technology revolution to the genomic revolution and everything in between - MRIs, lasers, the Internet, Doppler radar, and countless other innovations - NSF-supported fundamental research has advanced our society.

NSF's FY 2001 budget reflects the lessons of history. It focuses on national priorities, as it should. But it 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.

Let me emphasize that the entire NSF investment portfolio sets the stage for a 21st Century research and education enterprise, focused on national priorities. Guiding all of these activities is the Foundation's longstanding commitment to merit-based investments in learning and discovery that adhere to the highest standards of excellence.

This request marks a significant step forward for U.S. science and engineering. The requested increase of over 17 percent provides a level of investment that is clearly in keeping with the wealth of opportunity that science and engineering provide society. In addition, it positions America to remain a world leader in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st Century.

Thank you.