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NSF & Congress

House Research Subcommittee Hearing on H.R. 2183, the MSI Digital and Wireless Technology Opportunity Act

July 9, 2003

On Wednesday, July 9, the Research Subcommittee of the House Science Committee convened a hearing on H.R. 2183, The Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Opportunity Act. All committee members and witnesses expressed support for the intent of the legislation, but Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI) expressed some concerns on funding and its impact on existing programs, while NSF Director Rita Colwell testified that NSF did not support the bill in its current form.

In his opening remarks, the Chairman noted that the committee had long recognized the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for all students and lauded the bill's goal of strengthening the information technology (IT) infrastructure for MSIs. However, he expressed concern about the funding for the program (authorized at $250 million for fiscal years 2004 through 2008 by the bill), about excluding non-MSIs with comparable needs for IT improvements, and about the possibility of inadvertently harming K-12 programs that target underrepresented groups.

The first panel included Sen. George Allen (R-VA), who introduced companion legislation, S. 196, in the Senate, and Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), who introduced a similar bill (H.R. 2272) in the House.

The second panel included Dr. Fred Humphries, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO); Dr. Ricardo Fernandez, president of Lehman College-CUNY; Dr. Larry Earvin, president of Huston-Tillston College testifying on behalf of the United Negro College Fund; and Dr. Dwight J. Fennell, president of Paul Quinn College.

The third and final panel consisted of NSF Director Rita Colwell. Dr. Colwell's testimony stated that although NSF supported the goals of the legislation, it could not support the bill in its current form. NSF's concerns with the legislation included the constraints placed on NSF's management of the program, conflicts between the proposed program and NSF's fundamental operating policies, and the fact that the legislation would require NSF to fund every eligible proposal regardless of merit. Funding the program at authorized levels would also be unrealistic within the FY04 request as it would consume 5% of NSF's total budget and require cutting many programs, including current successful MSI programs.

Dr. Colwell also highlighted a number of successful NSF programs that target students at MSIs and that a new position in the Office of the Director would soon be tasked with coordinating MSI programs across the foundation.

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