American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Subcommittee on Basic Research hearing on National Science Foundation FY99 Budget (5-4-98)

The House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research held a hearing on the proposed National Science Foundation (NSF) budget on April 22. The two witnesses were Neal Lane, director of the NSF, and Dr. John Hopcroft, a member of the National Science Board, which is the governing body of NSF. The appearance was Lane's last before the subcommittee, since he has been nominated to become the next Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Congressional members from both sides of the aisle praised Lane and his leadership at NSF.

President Clinton's FY 1999 request for NSF is $3,773 million, an increase of $344 million, or 10 percent, above FY 1998 funding. More information on the Administration's budget request is available on the AGI web site. According to Acting subcommittee chairman Chip Pickering (R-MS), the full Science Committee "supported this request." Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) commented that the request "adequately handles the needs of NSF...for the first time" in his years in Congr ess, but also noted that the request is not provided for in the budget.

Hopcroft and Lane both provided brief testimonies explaining the major NSF themes for FY99: Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence; Life and Earth's Environment; and Educating for the Future. They also spoke about the need to increase funding for NSF research. Lane's and Hopcroft's full written statements, along with the hearing charter, are available on the House Science Committee website.

Rep. Ehlers asked how NSF sets priorities each year. The approach is "pretty well established," Lane reported; each year he questions NSF's assistant directors about their highest priorities. "Then I look for themes that run across many fields of scien ce and engineering...where a little extra investment can pay off in many areas." This, he explained, is how NSF arrived at its current cross-cutting themes. Hopcroft added that setting priorities within disciplines is easily done by peer-review, but it is more difficult to set priorities between fields of study.

Representatives Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) and Pickering inquired what NSF would do if a tobacco settlement -- the revenues from which are slated to provide the increases for science found in the Research Fund for America -- does not occur. Lane responded th at the President's budget provides offsets for its increases in funding for science and avoided answering directly, instead saying that if R&D did not receive the proposed increases, it would result in less investment in the future and "less payoff do wn the road." He promised that if confirmed as OSTP director, he would work hard with Congress to resolve this issue.

Rep. Rivers, who also serves on the Budget Committee, asked if the proposed increase addressed the erosion in NSF's budget over the last few decades. Lane said that although the 10 percent increase would roughly make up for the amount NSF lost over the past few years, he stated that we need good equipment to conduct good science at the frontier, and "we have slipped substantially." The decaying research infrastructure at universities, he said, represents a serious problem that is "going to need to be a ddressed." He also spoke of the need to attract more US students to math, science, and engineering graduate programs, especially women, minorities, and the disabled.

Sources: Hearing testimony, American Institute of Physics

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Prepared by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted May 4, 1998

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