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NSF & Congress


Dr. Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation

Before the Senate Committee on Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions
June 19, 2002

Chairman Kennedy, Senator Gregg, and Members of the Committee, thank you for providing this opportunity to discuss the President's budget request for the National Science Foundation.

America's present and future strength, prosperity and global preeminence depend directly on fundamental research.

Every year, the Foundation's optimal use of limited public funds has relied on two conditions -- number one, ensuring that our research and education investments are aimed - and continuously re-aimed - at the frontiers of understanding

And number two, certifying that virtually every dollar goes to competitive merit- reviewed, and time-limited awards with clear criteria for success.

Moreover, NSF puts the greatest share of its resources where they will do the most good: in the nation's colleges and universities where, in addition to generating the truly new ideas that define the future, every dollar invested contributes to developing and training the next generation of researchers and educators.

NSF has been proactive in implementing the President's Management Agenda, and we welcome -- and apply -- input from many sources to continuously improve the way we manage programs at NSF.

When these conditions are met, our nation gets the most intellectual and economic leverage from its research and education investments.

The National Science Foundation is requesting $5.036 billion for FY2003, $240 million or five percent more than the previous fiscal year. For the United States to stay on the leading edge of discovery and innovation, we cannot do less.

Let me stress that the priority setting process at NSF results from continual consultation with the research community. New programs are added or enhanced only after seeking the combined expertise and experience of the science and engineering community, the Director and Deputy, and the National Science Board.

Programs are initiated or enlarged based on considerations of their intellectual merit, broader impacts of the research, the importance to science and engineering, balance across fields and disciplines, and synergy with research in other agencies and nations. NSF coordinates its research with our sister research agencies both informally -- by program officers being actively informed of other agencies' programs – and formally, through interagency agreements that spell out the various agency roles in research activities.

Partnerships among agencies are proliferating mainly because they offer the best hope for finding answers to some of the most challenging research problems. These partnerships are truly changing the face of science. NSF is the lead agency for two multi-agency Administration initiatives in the most promising research fields, information technology and nanotechnology. Knowledge breakthroughs in these two areas alone will fundamentally change the face of research in research areas across the board.

I am keenly aware and deeply appreciative of this committee's strong interest in improving the quality of education in this country, so I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss some of the steps NSF is taking to strengthen our math and science education.

How can it be that a nation that spends more than $300 billion on public K-12 education invests less than one-tenth of one percent of that amount to determine "what "actually works," and to find ways to improve educational technologies? NSF does not have a magic wand, but we do have an impressive portfolio of research and education programs designed to help address these and other challenging problems.

One of the most encouraging highlights of our FY03 budget request is a second installment of $200 million for President's Bush's national five-year, $1 billion Math and Science Partnership Program (MSP) to ensure that "no child is left behind." The strategic focus of MSP is to link the nation's higher education institutions with local, regional and state school districts and other partners. MSP calls for a significant commitment by colleges and universities to help improve the quality of science and mathematics instruction in our schools. Additionally, the program calls for greater investment in the recruitment and professional development of highly competent science and math teachers. I would like to note that NSF and the Department of Education are working closely together to effectively manage this joint investment in math and science education. Review panels are currently underway for the first round of MSP proposals, and Department of Education staff is fully involved in this process along with NSF staff.

For MSP to succeed we must first ensure that productive partnerships are established between schools and colleges. A second distinguishing feature of MSP is that it will not be an isolated set of local partnerships, but will become part of a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education portfolio of interconnected sites that will share successful methods so that all students benefit. MSP seeks to improve student achievement in mathematics and science by all students, at all pre-college levels. NSF doesn't have all the answers, but through programs like MSP, our education portfolio is evolving to meet the critical needs of our nation's future workforce.

And that S&T workforce should also reflect the face of America. We must attract more of our youngsters, especially minorities and women, to pursue careers in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering. We must draw upon our full talent pool. One of the steps NSF is taking to attract more of the nation's most promising students to science and engineering is an investment of approximately $37 million in FY03 to increase annual stipends for graduate fellows to encourage them to pursue technical careers. Other NSF programs geared toward helping this underrepresented segment of our population can hopefully make a difference in their recruitment, retention, and advancement in technical fields.

The budget also includes funding for six priority areas, including $221 million for nanotechnology research, $286 million for information technology research, and $60 million as part of a new priority area in mathematical and statistical sciences research that will ultimately advance interdisciplinary science and engineering. $185 million is directed toward NSF's Learning for the 21st Century Workforce priority area – including $20 million to fund three to four new multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional Science of Learning Centers to enhance our understanding of how we learn, how the brain stores information, and how we can best use new information technology to promote learning.

We are also requesting $10 million to seed a new priority area in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences to explore the complex interactions between new technology and society so that we can better anticipate and prepare for their consequences.

The budget requests $79 million for research on biocomplexity in the environment. This builds upon past investments to study the remarkable and dynamic web of interrelationships that arise when living things at all levels interact with their environment. Research in two new areas this year -- microbial genome sequencing and ecology of infectious diseases -- will help develop strategies to assess and manage the risks of infectious diseases, invasive species, and biological weapons.

I should add that as part of the Administration's new multi-agency Climate Change Research Initiative, we will implement a $15 million research program to advance understanding in highly focused areas of climate science, to reduce uncertainty and facilitate policy decisions. Our budget also includes $76 million for programs slated to be transferred to NSF from NOAA, EPA, and the USGS.

Although we did not seek these transfers, we take considerable pride in the fact that of the 26 Federal agencies judged by OMB in five key management areas, only the National Science Foundation received a green light. NSF is noted for its expertise and success in funding competitive research, and this was certainly a factor in this recognition.

In large facilities, we will continue support for the next phase of construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). New construction projects in the FY2003 budget include two prototype sites of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) at a cost of $12 million to analyze data to detect abrupt changes or long-term trends in the environment. The budget also requests $35 million for EarthScope to detect and investigate earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and landslides on the North American continent.

The events following September 11 demonstrated our capacity to engage the research community in ways that are immediately responsive to national needs – ranging from the analysis of a catastrophic structural collapse to the use of robotics in victim location. We owe this flexibility to a highly trained scientific and engineering workforce capable of selecting the most interesting and challenging problems for their research. It is this flexibility, enabled by the merit review system that makes our science and technology enterprise the envy of the world.

The Bush Administration has recognized that we need to invest more in scientific and technological research – across the board. Other nations are building up their R&D commitments. US investment in broad-based fundamental research – which takes place largely in our universities – must not be allowed to slip. I think Harold Varmus said it best when he said, "The NIH does a magnificent job but it does not hold all the keys to success. The work of several science agencies is required for advances in medical sciences, and the health of some of those agencies is suffering."

The National Science Foundation is the only Federal agency whose primary mission is to advance science, engineering and mathematics across all disciplines. By doing so we support national defense, help our country remain internationally competitive, and provide a better standard of living for our citizens. As we work to develop the finest scientists and engineering for the 21st century, our human resources policy must move beyond simply the supply and demand of personnel and address the composition of our science and engineering workforce. There is much room for needed improvement and continued policy considerations.

Mr. Chairman, for those who want to examine the NSF budget in detail, it is fully laid out on our web site. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that the committee may have.

See also: Hearing Summary