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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-40 (NSB 03-55) - April 8, 2003

Media contact:

 Bill Noxon

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Paul Herer

 (703) 292-8040

Science Board Calls for Greater Infrastructure Fiscal Support, Mid-Size Project Emphasis

Arlington, Va. - The National Science Board (NSB) today released a report concluding that funding for academic research infrastructure "has not kept pace with rapidly changing technology, expanding research opportunities, and an increasing number of (facility) users." It recommended increased funding and attention be devoted to science and engineering (S&E) research infrastructure at the nation's colleges and universities to achieve maximum results at these institutions, which represent the vast majority of the nation's base of support for fundamental research.

The NSB, a 24-member policy body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been studying the state of the nation's science and engineering infrastructure since September 2000. A task force formed at that time was asked to "undertake and guide an assessment of the fundamental science and engineering infrastructure in the United States." The Task Force on S&E Infrastructure, chaired by Board member John White, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas, was asked to highlight the role of NSF, the primary federal agency that supports basic research for the nation in all areas of science and engineering, “as well as the larger resource and management strategies of interest” to U.S. policymakers.

The task force's undertaking represented a significant change in thinking about research infrastructure. Typically thought of as being the "hardware on the floor," the term infrastructure now encompasses "distributed" systems of hardware, software, databases and expert systems, thanks to the information revolution.

The NSB cited new information technology and other tools that will require researchers and educators to "be connected to a sophisticated array of facilities, instruments, databases [and] technical literature."

The NSB said it is "urgent" to increase federal investments for the "latest and best S&E infrastructure" as well as to "update infrastructure currently in place" in order to provide broad access to these resources by scientists and engineers nationwide.

Specifically, the NSB said the current 22 percent share of the NSF budget devoted to small- and medium-scale infrastructure is too low, considering the added needs for cyberinfrastructure, and recommended a share of up to 27 percent.

The NSB also recommended special emphasis on: advanced instrument technology and computational tools, increased mid-sized infrastructure projects ranging from several million to tens of millions of dollars that have been unfulfilled priorities, large facility projects that have been approved for funding but not provided the budgetary support, and development and deployment of advanced cyberinfrastructure on a broad scale. The NSB was particularly concerned about the large infrastructure projects, saying that an annual investment of $350 million is needed over several years to address the backlog of facility construction. Further postponement of this investment, the Board says, "will not only increase the future costs of these projects, but also result in the loss of U.S. leadership in key research fields."

Other recommendations of the NSB included the need to: expand education and training opportunities at research facilities, strengthen in several ways the infrastructure planning and budgeting process and develop interagency plans to establish infrastructure priorities, deployment strategies, protection of resources and partnering among organizations to enable mutual support of research facilities across national boundaries.

According to the report, the nation has a challenge and opportunity to fulfill in S&E infrastructure said, "The young people who are trained using state-of-the-art instruments and facilities are the ones who will demand and create the new tools, and make the breakthroughs that will extend the science and technology envelope. Training these young people will ensure that the U.S. maintains international leadership in the key scientific and engineering fields that are vital for a strong economy, social order and national security," the report said.

The task force undertook an extensive review of current literature, held task force meetings with interagency representatives, and reviewed internal assessments with NSF staff and senior officials. A draft report for public comment was issued in December 2002. A final draft was approved at a February, 2003 meeting of the NSB.

The final report is expected to guide NSF's future funding priorities.

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NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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