Dr. Rita R. Colwell
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
American Society for Engineering Education
Engineering Deans Colloquium
February 9, 1999
Good afternoon. To start our conversation today, I
would like to take a few minutes to review what's
been front and center at NSF this past week - namely
the FY 2000 budget request.
I'd like to share a few of the highlights from the
request - and do so in a way that puts it in a larger,
We have an excellent budget at the starting gate in
what was - and remains - a very difficult budget environment.
The overall budget picture can be confusing at first,
but it becomes clearer when we start at the top and
Domestic spending is the key for NSF and virtually
all of non-defense R&D. It's not a pretty picture.
The total for domestic discretionary in FY 2000 is
some $28 billion lower than it was in FY 1999. That's
a 13 percent cut - in budget authority.
That's where we started with OMB. Fortunately, where
we finished with OMB looks much better.
The Administration has produced a strong package of
investments in research.
- Basic research across the government is up by
- Academic R&D is up by over $350 million.
The bottom line for NSF is $3.95 billion or about 6
percent above the FY 1999 level. Our support for research
projects is up by 8 percent.
Taken all together, these increases - both for NSF
and for research in general - provide one more reminder
of the Administration's commitment to investing in
fundamental research and in education.
They make for seven years in a row of supporting increases
in research. It may not equal Cal Ripken's streak
- but it's a solid record, and it's still going.
Before I turn to details of the budget, I'd like to
say a few words about how 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 good place to start is with the National Science
Board's biannual compilation of Science and Engineering
The Board put the situation into a nutshell. 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 $220 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.
- The federal government now provides only 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 report, Going Global, 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. I know many of you and your
colleagues take part in its deliberations.
What it has to say is worth listening to. The Council
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 talk
at the AAAS meeting late last month 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
NSF's 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 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 about one third. I know that
is not news to many of you, but it's taken more than
a few people by surprise.
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.
Harold, very much to his credit, made a very bold observation
when he talked about the dependence of biology and
medicine on other fields of science and engineering!
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, ECHO cardiography, and fetal
sonograms as examples of these revolutionary advances.
This brings us to the FY 2000 request for NSF, and
the need for increased investment in research and
education. NSF is the fulcrum for all of science and
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
We support the fundamental work that benefits 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...The bottom line for
NSF is fast closing in on a $4 billion milestone.
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 headliner in this budget is the new initiative
in information technology. The rationale is both obvious
As Internet growth has gone through the roof, IT has
become the essential fuel for the nation's economic
The numbers speak for themselves. The latest estimates
show that the IT has generated one-third of the recent
growth in the U.S. economy.
It now accounts for 7.4 million jobs...and it pays
wages that are 60 percent higher than the private
The challenge now is to sustain this record of success,
and there are worrisome signs that we might be resting
on our laurels.
You may be familiar with the recent report by the President's
Information Technology Advisory Committee-PITAC for
PITAC concluded that federal support for long-term
research on information technology has been "dangerously
inadequate." In its words, "support in most critical
areas has been flat or declining for nearly a decade,
while the importance of IT to our economy has increased
This has led to the government-wide initiative: Information
Technology for the 21st Century - IT2 as
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 is the lead agency for IT2. This was
recommended last fall by the PITAC, and we are glad
to accept this responsibility.
We'll be putting $146 million into our part of IT2,
which will cover three sets of activities.
- First is fundamental IT research - at $100 million.
This will focus on a key assessment from PITAC's
For all of our ability to push the high-end in computing,
no one really understands how all the pieces work
The need right now is to improve both reliability and
performance. We can achieve this by understanding
how systems interact and by gaining new knowledge
of the working whole.
- The request also includes $36 million for a terascale
computing system. This will serve computer scientists
and the entire science and engineering community.
- 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.
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, for the global good.
IT2 represents an investment that will strengthen
the entire research and education enterprise.
It will deliver tools and capabilities that will benefit
every field, every discipline, and every level of
education, and all kinds of engineering.
Engineering research and education will be an important
participant and beneficiary of IT2.
I know I preach to the choir when I describe the relationship
between science and engineering as being a tandem
pair. The benefits of one are difficult to realize
without the advantages of the other.
Just to cite one example - the Engineering Research
Center at Johns Hopkins University is a good example
The Computer Integrated Surgical Systems & Technology
Center is advancing the surgeon/machine relationship
through improved modeling and analysis, and software
Work in this area will bridge the perceptual with the
physical to transcend human limitations in the operating
room. It will avoid surgical errors and enable new
ways to treat disease.
This ERC represents the true alliance and dependence
of engineering and science.
Other areas I would like to tell you about: We are
also starting a $50 million initiative on biocomplexity.
Biologists, like most researchers, have spent generations
studying the components of systems in isolation.
Now it's time to begin understanding how the behavior
of the whole can be very different from the sum of
Finally, education remains a priority, as it must.
Last year we got the not-so-good-news about how our
schools compare to other nation's.
By 12th grade, our students are near the bottom. We
can and must do better.
The request sustains our current base of innovative
activities - and plants a few new seeds as well.
One way we are hoping to jump-start the system is through
a new Graduate Teaching Fellows program. The program
may seem small at only $7.5 million, but its potential
impact goes well beyond dollars.
It will broaden graduate education, and boost the content
in K through 12 classrooms.
That's just one of many highlights from our education
portfolio. 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 through 12 and undergraduate education, by providing
wide access to standards-based materials and learning
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 strong
As part of last year's immigration legislation, we
began receiving $33 million from the processing fees
for H1B Visas. This supports an array of scholarships
and systemic projects for developing a technological
Just a few other highlights of our budget include:
The Plant Genome Research Program - which 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.
A new start at NSF, which uses information technology
as an anchor, is the NEES - the Network for Earthquake
NSF is providing $8 million in FY 2000 toward a total
investment of $82 million over the next five years.
This is modeled after the highly successful nanofabrication
network that many of you know well. It will lead to
a national, fully interconnected network of major
earthquake research facilities.
Finally, we continue investments in a number of major
infrastructure projects, including modernization of
the South Pole Station and the detectors for the large
Before I turn the discussion over to you, let me just
add that the year 2000 marks the 50th Anniversary
of the National Science Foundation. 50 years is the
In this budget environment, it is very clear that the
FY 2000 request should be seen by all as a golden
anniversary investment - not just for the Foundation,
but for all of science and engineering.
I'll close on a personal note. I came to NSF because
I believe our nation is severely under-investing in
fundamental research and education across all fields.
The NSF budget is too small for the work that needs
to be done.
We need to start thinking about doubling - and beyond.
It makes no sense to double the NIH budget (as some
advocate) without doubling NSF as well - given the
dependence of biomedical fields on engineering and
the physical sciences.
This budget - as good as it is in this budget environment
- is only step one. Much more is needed as we look
down the road.
If I had a clear plan or timetable for making this
happen, I'd share it with you. The one thing I do
know is that I'll need your support, your guidance,
and your feedback this year and in subsequent years.
In an article he wrote for the Spring 1998 issue of
The Bridge on bringing engineering education
into the 21st century, Bill Wulf writes that, "Science
is analytic - it strives to understand nature, and
what is. Engineering is synthetic - it strives to
create what can be."
I would argue that as scientists and engineers, as
well as researchers and educators, together we have
much work to do - to figure out what is, and what
can be, to bring this country into the 21st century
on solid and innovative footing.
Good luck tomorrow. And thank you for your attention