AGI Testimony on Fiscal Year 2001 Appropriations for the National Science Foundation

Testimony Submitted by
Dr. David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
in support of Fiscal Year 2001 Appropriations for the
National Science Foundation

U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies Appropriations
April 12, 2000

To the Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony on behalf of the American Geological Institute (AGI) in support of fiscal year (FY) 2001 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The fundamental research supported by NSF has fueled our present economic growth and contributed to improvements in our health, safety, and quality of life. This subcommittee has shown leadership in expanding the federal investment in fundamental research, and that leadership will be even more critical in the coming year. AGI urges the subcommittee to reaffirm its commitment to science and technology by fully funding the President's FY 2001 budget request for NSF of $4.6 billion. This increase represents an important investment in the future of our nation and our planet at a time when we can ill afford not to make that investment.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 35 geoscientific and professional societies representing more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

NSF Support for Geoscience Research

The rationale for supporting geoscience research and education has never been stronger. Global climate change, natural disasters, energy resources, and water quality issues are reported daily by the news media. Geoscience research plays an increasingly important role in an ever growing range of scientific and societal problems, and federal investments in geoscience research should increase accordingly. Federal investments in geoscience R&D continue to pay enormous dividends, and both the federal government and the nation clearly have a stake in maintaining the health of the basic science on which applications and policy decisions ultimately must be based.

The NSF Directorate for Geosciences is the principal source of federal support for academic earth scientists who are seeking insight into the fundamental earth processes that ultimately sustain and transform life on our planet. AGI urges the subcommittee to fully fund the FY 2001 budget request of $583 million, a 19.5 percent increase, for this directorate. In particular, we urge the subcommittee to grant the $118.5 million requested for the Earth Sciences Division, a 16.6 percent increase. The NSF Office of Polar Research Programs also supports a significant amount of earth-science research. It has requested $222.8 million, a 17 percent increase.

AGI also urges the subcommittee to support the NSF Major Research Equipment budget request of $17.4 million for a new geoscience initiative called Earthscope. Taking advantage of new technology in sensors and data distribution, this four-pronged initiative will systematically survey the structure of the Earth's crust beneath North America. The FY2001 request includes support for the first two components: USArray, a dense array of digital seismometers that will be deployed in stages across the country; and the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), a 4-km deep borehole through this highly active California fault, housing a variety of instruments that can continuously monitor the conditions within the fault zone. Future components still in the planning stage include a Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) that will use state-of-the-art Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and sensitive strainmeters to measure the deformation of the constantly shifting boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, and a satellite-based Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) mission that can measure changes in the Earth's crust after earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. All data from this project will be available in real time to both scientists and students, providing a tremendous opportunity for both research and learning about the Earth.

NSF support for geoscience research activities covers the entire spectrum from individual investigators to major research centers and large research programs. Many of the most creative and important advances in geoscience research continue to be made by individual investigators and small research teams that are the backbone of the research and graduate education system. NSF should maintain and enhance support for this vital component of geoscience research. AGI supports NSF's plan to use budgetary increase to expand the length and size of grants so that researchers spend more time on research and less time writing grants.

Among the many reasons for supporting geoscience research are the following:

NSF and Environmental Research

It is clear from the NSF budget request that environmental research is and will be a high priority for the Foundation, and it is our hope that the earth sciences will play an important role in this area. The success of environmental research will depend on how well it can take advantage of the strengths of many diverse disciplines to yield a more complete picture of the earth system. Two very important rationales for public and congressional support of the Foundation are human health and societal decisionmaking. NSF Director Rita Colwell is to be commended for making the case for better understanding of environmental influences on public health. NSF's role in this arena includes such earth science-related topics as natural background levels of various contaminants and the bioavailability of geologic materials to living organisms. The recent House Science Policy Study argued that "helping society make better decisions" should join national security, economic growth, and human health as the key rationales for federal investment in scientific research. The study referred specifically to environmental issues. Such a rationale is highly applicable to NSF, because well-informed decisionmaking must rest upon improved fundamental understanding of how the Earth and its systems function. The challenge for NSF is that such a rationale also requires improved communication of the results and meaning of such fundamental research to policymakers and society as a whole.

There are many areas of environmental research where the earth sciences can and should play a significant role. Three examples:

NSF Support for Geoscience Education

The geosciences play a unique and essential role in today's rapidly changing world. Most human activities involve interactions with the planet Earth, and citizens need a basic understanding of the Earth in order to make informed decisions about the delicate balance between resource utilization and environmental protection. NSF can improve the nation's scientific literacy by supporting the full integration of geoscience information into mainstream science education at the K-12 and college levels. The inclusion of the geosciences as a key component in the science education standards developed by the National Academy of Sciences presents a tremendous opportunity to achieve this goal.

AGI urges the subcommittee to provide the requested 5 percent increase to $760 million for NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), which has taken the lead in supporting the educational goals described above. We encourage this directorate to expand its interaction with the Directorate for Geosciences to further integrate research and education activities in the geosciences.

Improving geoscience education to levels of recognition similar to other scientific disciplines is important because:

We urge NSF to continue playing an active role in the major transformation that is taking place in geoscience education. For example, at the college level, geoscience curricula are changing to better incorporate environmental issues and changing employment opportunities. Improved teaching methods and new educational technology, combined with improvements in college and pre-college geoscience curricula, may help capture and hold the curiosity and enthusiasm of students and better prepare them for the workplace of the 21st century. At the graduate and postdoctoral level, fellowships are increasingly critical in the geosciences because students, following the lead of industry and consumer needs, are conducting research that crosses traditional departmental, disciplinary, and funding boundaries.

Yet some Americans, particularly those of lower income, are still significantly underrepresented in geoscience education. The problem is substantially worse at the graduate level. It is unlikely that any profession, including the geosciences, can flourish without greater participation by all Americans, including those from historically underrepresented groups such as ethnic minorities and women. Continued NSF leadership is needed to increase recruitment and retention of students from these groups through improved access to education and research experiences. Scientists must continue to address the underlying factors that prevent such participation.

I appreciate this opportunity to testify before the committee and would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record.


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Posted by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Posted April 21, 2000


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