Most Recent Action   Background   Hearing Summaries 

National Science Foundation Reauthorization Update (7-26-00)

The year 2000 marks an historic one for the NSF, the only federal agency devoted solely to supporting fundamental science research and education.  As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, NSF faces reauthorization in Congress and a new push to double its funding in the next five fiscal years.  Reuthorization of the agency has failed to pass Congress for the last few years, although  funds continue to be appropriated.  As National Institutes of Health's (NIH) budget has seen increases nearly doubling its budget in the last five years, NSF has been slower to build up.  This year's presidential budget request for NSF is a step towards budget-doubling, an enormous 17.3% increase to signal federal commitment to basic science research and eduation.

Most Recent Action
A markup for the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2000, H.R. 4901, was scheduled for and cancelled on July 26, 2000.  This version of the bill was a compromise between full House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Basic Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI).  It would reauthorize the NSF for three years, provide a 17% budget increase for FY 2001, followed by approximately 3.5% increases for the next two years.  Critics say that H.R. 4901 also contained some punitive amendments including restrictions on the director's travel budget and formation of an external program for a review of NSF ethics.  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) planned to excise those amendments in favor of 15% funding increases during both the second and third years, in line with Sens. Bond and Mikulski's efforts to double NSF's budget over the next five years (see below).  The Chairman cancelled the markup to avoid a bipartisan debate about the bill's ethics-training requirements while its current budget is being appropriated.  It is unlikely that NSF will see another reauthorization bill during the 106th Congress. (7/26/00)

On July 12, 2000, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies chairman and ranking member Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) released their goal to double funding for the NSF over the next five fiscal years.  They released a Dear Colleague Letter to be sent to Senate leaders of both parties.  The letter cites reasons for the requested increase focusing on the fact that recently lauded advancements in medical science at NIH were made possible by previous NSF-sponsored basic research.  It also discusses advances made in biotechnology, internet, geographic information systems, and nanotechnology credited to NSF, as well as its work in the areas of science teacher training and educational programs. Accompanying the letter were supporting testimonies from Kenneth Shine, President of the Institute of Medicine, and Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health.  For more information on Congressional efforts to double science funding on the AGI website.

The budget-doubling proposal was released on the same day a hearing was held to garner support for NSF reauthorization as well as for congressional efforts to double the agency's funding in the next five years.  The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions heard testimony from NSF director Rita Colwell, and from representatives of various formal and informal science organizations about the role NSF has played in their funding.  All witnesses testified to the outstanding success of NSF in promoting science, math and technology at all levels of the educational spectrum, and its contributions to maintaining international U.S. leadership in those areas.  Colwell noted that the average NSF grant today is $1000 less than it was in 1963. (7/12/00)

 This year marks the 50th anniversary of NSF, which was founded five years after the end of World War II.  In 1950, the U.S. was very aware of the role science played in helping to win the war, specifically the discovery of penicillin and the atomic bomb. Since then, the NSF has pursued its unique goal of providing support for education and basic research in all areas of science.  Each year it invests $3.3 billion in nearly 20,000 research and education programs.  The NSF anniversary webpage states the the agency has repeatedly planted the seeds of new ideas and "the results are discoveries and innovations that save lives, save time, and one day, may even save planet Earth."  For more background on the NSF, see

          Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
July 12, 2000

            Hearing to receive testimony regarding the reauthorization of the National Science Foundation

The Bottom Line
A hearing was held to garner support for the reauthorization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) as well as congressional efforts to double the agency's funding in the next five years. In attendance were the committee chair, Jim Jeffords (R-VT); Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking member; and Patty Murray (D-WA).  They heard testimony from Dr. Rita Colwell, the director of National Science Foundation, and from representatives of various formal and informal science organizations about the role NSF has played in their funding.  All witnesses testified to the outstanding successes of NSF to promote science, math and technology to all levels of the educational spectrum, and its contributions to maintaining international U.S. leadership in those areas.  Colwell noted that the average NSF grant today is $1000 less than it was in 1963.

Members Present
Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Rnking Member
Patty Murray (D-WA)

Opening Statement
Sen. Jim Jeffords began the hearing by discussing the origins of the National Science Foundation dating back to President Roosevelt's science advisor, Vannevar Bush's report "Science - The Endless Frontier"  which said that "a nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade regardless of its mechanical skill."  He stated that NSF has taken on the role not only of funding all aspects of science research, but has also become involved in science education reform.  Citing just a few of the advances and inventions that owe their existance to NSF grants, Jeffords committed himself to working toward a bipartisan NSF reauthorization bill.

Sen. Edward Kennedy discussed the importance of research and technology to the nation's prosperity and supported NSF's successful contributions to international leadership in those areas.   He lauded its role in closing the "digital divide," the lack of computer resources for rural or socioeconomically challenged areas of the U.S. and included the fact that NSF provides more than half of total federal support for computer science research in academia.  Kennedy also supported the Bond-Mikulski proposal to double NSF's budget over the next 5 years.

Panel I
Dr. Rita Colwell, Director of National Science Foundation

Dr. Colwell named the 21st Century the "Century of Progress" and asserted that the potential budget doubling will be necessary to keep the U.S. ahead in the new "knowledged-based economy."  The dominant argument for the doubling is that while NIH receives huge increases every year, most of its successes are due to earlier basic NSF-funded research.  The economic value of such research is nearly immeasurable, Colwell said.  She summarized the NSF's main roles in influencing and supporting science and technology education from K-12 to graduate levels, teacher preparation courses at universities, and supporting research into different learning styles.  Colwell responded to Jefford's question about broadening geographic and institutional participation in NSF by citing the programs that seek to solicit and represent new institutions and show them how NSF's grant system works.  She also spoke of partnerships between high school or college students linked with elementary schools to advance computing, where good elementary school students get to keep the computers they learned on.

Panel II
Dr. Doug Harris, Executive Director, Vermont Institute for Science, Math, and Technology
Dr. Dennis Bartels, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Exploratorium, San Francisco
Dr. Daniel Goroff, Professor of the Practice of Mathematics, Harvard University

Harris testified to the effectiveness of NSF's Statewide Systemic Initiatives program, that has improved the curriculum, staff development and overall education of Vermont schools.  He also discussed the upcoming Vermont Interactive Learning Network that will attempt to get mainly rural high schools linked in order to increase student course options.

Goroff raised the question of financial investment in science using the recent examples of Japan, China, and Europe's plan to double or even triple their research and development spending in the next few years.  In support of federal dollars for science going to the NSF, he cited their well-acknowledged efficiency and peer review system, the estimate that 56% of their investments are returned to society, and attention to all facets of science, not just trendy ones.  Finally, Goroff insisted that every dollar allocated to science returns to math by producing new mathematical problems and scientists who are familiar with math.

Bartels listed four things that, in his opinion, the NSF does best including how it:

He recommended that the NSF become involved with the training of new teachers in their first 2 years where they are on the steepest part of their learning curve.  Secondly, the agency should set up "translation centers" to improve public understanding of science.  Bartels stated that partial scientific knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance.  In reponse to Kennedy's query as to how the NSF can make science more interesting to children, Bartels responded that often kids are most inspired by informal sources like science museums and hands-on experimental projects.  He also advocated a mentoring system for high school science teachers where they have frequent communication with working scientists.

Panel III
Dr. Joe Danek, Director, EpSCOR Foundation
Dr. Charles M. Vest, President, MIT
Mr. Steve Wallach, Vice President, Office of Technology, Chiaro Networks

Full witness testimony is available on the Senate website.


Sources: hearings, Greenwire

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

Contributed by 2000 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Audrey Slesinger.

Posted July 26, 2000

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