Most Recent Action   Legislation   Background   Dear Colleague Letter   Hearing Summaries 

National Science Foundation Reauthorization Update (12-20-02)

Congress has been slow to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- its last reauthorization bill expired in fiscal year (FY) 2000. The lack of authorization legislation, however, has not kept Congress from funding the agency through the annual appropriations process. Several bills have been introduced in the previous and current Congresses to reauthorize the NSF but none of them have made it to the White House for presidential approval. Building on an idea that began several years ago, there is increasing congressional support to double the funding for the NSF over five years, mirroring the doubling path for the National Institutes of Health.

Most Recent Action
On December 19th, President Bush signed H.R. 4664 into law. The bill outlines a path to double the agency's budget over the next five years. It provides details for the first three years and only general numbers for the last two years. A summary available on the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs web site (in PDF) notes: "In addition to setting funding levels for the appropriations categories (Research and Related Activities, Education and Human Resources, Major Research Equipment Facilities and Construction, Salaries and Expenses, and Inspector General), the bill includes a separate line item for the National Science Board and authorized funding in priority areas of Information Technology, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Math and Science Education Partnerships, STEM Talent Expansion Program, and the Robert Noyce Scholarship program." The summary also lists several of the administrative provisions of the bill. Funding for the last two years of the bill (FY 2006 and FY 2007) will be contingent, in part, on the agency successfully meeting these administrative provisions. (12/20/02)

As reported in an AGI Alert: At three in the morning on Friday, November 15th, the House passed a compromise version of legislation that authorizes a doubling of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) budget over five years. The Senate acted earlier in the night after a deal was reached to overcome White House objections. The president is expected to sign H.R. 4664 into law, putting both the administration and Congress on record in support of this goal. The bill contains a number of provisions regarding education and workforce issues as well. NSF supporters have sought a budget doubling for the foundation ever since the National Institutes of Health was put on such a track (to be completed with the coming fiscal year's appropriations). Unlike an appropriations bill, however, this legislation only authorizes spending; it does not release any actual funds. A major effort from the scientific community over the next five years will be needed to turn authorization into reality. Geoscientists are encouraged to thank their representatives and senators for this important gesture. An alert from the American Institute of Physics reviews the long path that led to achieving an NSF authorization bill that calls for doubling the foundation's budget. (11/19/02)

The idea of passing a National Science Foundation reauthorization bill before Congress considers the fiscal year (FY) 2003 appropriations for the agency is quickly fading away. H.R. 4664, which passed the House on June 5th in a 397-25 vote, would authorize an increase of 15% for this year, placing the agency on a path to double over the next five years. Senate action on the bill has been mixed, with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holding a hearing on June 19th but only on the education programs under its jurisdiction and the Commerce, Science and Technology Committee holding a general hearing on federal research and development funding on May 22nd. Without an authorization bill for the doubling plan, many science supporters believe that there is a very slim chance that the appropriations for the agency will include the 15% increased needed to start down the doubling path. The Senate Appropriations Committee held its markup for the FY 2003 bill that includes funding for NSF on July 23rd. At the business meeting, the committee recommended a funding level of $5.4 billion for the agency, an 11.8% increase from last year's funding. The House Appropriations Committee has not yet considered its version of the spending bill, but is expected to do so shortly after returning from the August recess. Additional information on the appropriations process is available at AGI's Update on FY 2003 Geoscience Appropriations. On July 26th, the National Council for Science and the Environment released an email update on the Senate legislation. (7/26/02)

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee held a hearing on June 19th regarding the math and science education programs within the National Science Foundation as well as the current status of the nation's math and science education. Former Senator John Glen summed up sentiment on the current state of math and science in this country when he said that "the emergency is already here."  The three witnesses at this hearing presented a dismal picture of the current state of these disciplines in the US.  Math and science education is flawed, student interest in math and the sciences is decreasing, American students are scoring lower and lower on tests when compared with students globally, and US industries are having to look overseas for individuals qualified enough to fill technical positions.  They felt it was crucial that the budget of the NSF be increased, as it is an important player in both scientific research and math and science education.  Witnesses offered a range of solutions to help address some or all of the problems listed above although it was clear that making the critical improvements in these areas will take much effort and federal monetary support if substantial changes are to be realized. (6/21/02)

On May 22nd, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space held a hearing on the federal research and development budget and the NSF. Witnesses included Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) John Marburger, NSF Director Rita Colwell, former Representative from Georgia Newt Gingrich, former White House Chief of Staff for the Clinton Administration John Podesta, Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Alan Leshner, Vice President for Research at Montana State University Thomas McCoy, and Vice President for Research at Virginia Commonwealth University Marsha Torr. While this hearing did not deal specifically with reauthorizing NSF, it did lay the groundwork for future Senate Commerce Committee action. In related events, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which also has oversight of NSF, has scheduled a reauthorization hearing on June 4th. (5/24/02)

The House Science Committee approved H.R. 4664, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002, in a voice vote on May 22nd -- a webcast of the business meeting is available. Originally introduced by Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) on May 7th, the bill would authorize increases for the next three years that track with a five-year doubling. Such funding, of course, would be contingent upon congressional appropriators following through with the dollars, but passage of the bill would put Congress on record in support of this goal.  Two days after being introduced, the bill was the topic of a subcommittee hearing and vote. (5/23/02)

An AGI alert sent out on May 15th, reported that a bipartisan group of representatives is seeking a 15% increase for the National Science Foundation in fiscal year (FY) 2003. This increase is part of a broader effort to put the agency on track to double its budget in five years as has been done for the National Institutes of Health. Such an increase would make it possible for Congress to fund the EarthScope initiative and build other key geoscience programs. As part of the doubling effort, these representatives are sending a "Dear Colleague" letter to the House Appropriations Committee at the end of May.

These efforts dovetail with the recommendations of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), to which AGI and several of its member societies belong. A statement released in February by CNSF requested a 15% increase for NSF in FY 2003 and laid out how these additional funds could be used by the agency to support core science, increase grant size and duration, and build major research equipment and facilities, while continuing to support administrative initiatives and education improvements.  The statement was signed by more than 70 professional societies and universities.  This group also has been supportive of a reauthorization bill that would double the NSF budget over the next five years. On May 15th, CNSF hosted an exhibition and reception on Capitol Hill to showcase NSF-sponsored research to Members of Congress and their staff. AGI co-sponsored an exhibit prepared by the IRIS Consortium on the EarthScope initiative. (5/18/02)

Reauthorization Legislation

H.R. 4664, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002
Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Research, introduced the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 on May 7th. Twelve other representatives also co-sponsored the bill: Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Ralph Hall (D-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Constance Morella (R-MD), Michael Honda (D-CA), and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). The bill (H.R. 4664) was unveiled at a well-attended press conference, where Smith and other co-sponsors talked about the importance of research funded by the National Science Foundation. A committee summary of the bill notes that it would put the NSF on a track to double its budget over the next five years. It would authorize a 15% increase for the agency in FY 2003, 14% in FY 2004, and 15% in FY 2005.

The bill is set up to deal not only with annual funding levels but also to look at how the agency manages facilities and makes institutional decisions. In FY 2003, the bill would authorize $5.52 billion for the agency. Of that amount $4.14 billion would fund the Research and Related Activities account (core programs supported through the directorates), which would include $238 million for nanoscience and $75.9 million for major research instrumentation. The bill would provide $1 billion for the Education and Human Resources account, which supports graduate fellowships and science education programs. Funding for FY 2003 for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account (which would provide funding for EarthScope) would be authorized at $152 million. Funding would be authorized at a total of $6.34 billion in FY 2004 and $7.29 billion in FY 2005. The bill would require that the NSF Director submit to Congress an annual plan for the allocation of funds that addresses how these funds "affect the average size and duration of research grants", "affect trends in research support", and "ensure that research in physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering is adequate to address important research opportunities in these fields."

As for agency management, the bill would require that NSF and the National Science Board develop and report on a list of priorities for the Major Research Equipment (MRE) account. Also laid out are several specific pieces of information that must be provided and collected for MRE projects to be considered and accepted. H.R. 4664 would establish the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to assess and make recommendations on how to coordinate programs between the two agencies. The last management section of the bill would ensure that meetings of the National Science Board, the governing body of the agency, are open to the public. An AGU alert on H.R. 4664 provides additional details at

At the May 22nd business meeting, Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) introduced an amendment that made several small changes. This amendment changed bill language related to the annual plan that the NSF Director must submit to Congress. The amendment would change the third aspect that the report must address to how funding "is designed to achieve an appropriate balance among major fields and subfields of science, mathematics, and engineering." The amendment and text of the bill is available as a PDF document on the Science Committee website. H.R. 4664 will now be placed on the calendar for House floor consideration, which is expected in the coming weeks.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) was established in 1950, in part as a response to the key role that science and technology played in winning the war. Over the past fifty-plus years, 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. According to the Congressional Research Service report U.S. National Science Foundation: An Overview, the agency's key responsibility is to "maintain the health and vitality of the U.S. academic science and engineering enterprise."

Additional information on activities in the previous Congress is available at and at the AGI Update on Congressional Efforts to Double Science Funding. The NSF 50th Anniversary website contains information on research and technology that the agency has sponsored over the years.

Ehlers/Boehlert Dear Colleague Letter

Dear Chairman Walsh and Ranking Member Mollohan:

We are writing as longtime supporters of fundamental scientific research and education. Science and technology fuel the growth of our economy, provide the means of our national security, and inspire our children. Yet many of the benefits we reap today stem from wise investments made decades ago. We believe that we must now increase the budget of the National Science Foundation the only Federal agency devoted to supporting basic research in science, math, and engineering across all fields and science and math education at all levels in order to provide the discoveries, technologies, and workforce necessary for the future prosperity of our nation.

As the war against terrorism has demonstrated, technology is key to America's strength. Laser-guided precision bombs exist today because of basic research performed a half-century earlier, long before the many applications of the laser were realized. As pointed out by the Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security, 'the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine.'

There is a growing consensus that investing in fundamental scientific research is one of the best things we can do to keep our nation economically strong. This fact has been recognized by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, NASDAQ President Alfred Berkeley, Former Speaker Gingrich, the Committee for Economic Development, and many other respected experts from across the political spectrum. Business Week cautions: "What's needed is a serious stimulant to basic research, which has been lagging in recent years. Without continued gains in education and training and new innovations and scientific findings the raw materials of growth in the New Economy the technological dynamic will stall."

NSF's impact over the past half century has been monumental. Ideas first conceived in the labs of NSF-funded researchers now permeate our daily lives. These include Internet browsers, Doppler weather radar, fiber optics, earthquake hazard mitigation, even the geographic information systems used to coordinate rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. NSF-funded scientists discovered the cause of the ozone hole, found planets around other stars, created nanoscale carbon "buckyballs", and have garnered over 100 Nobel Prizes.

NSF is also vital to supplying our nation with scientists, engineers, and skilled technological workers. NSF provides grants to college-level scientists for cutting-edge research and technology. These scientists train students, many of whom then go into industry and become a crucial part of the knowledge transfer between universities and industry. A five-year study released in 1997 showed that technology transfer from academic research added more than $21 billion supporting 180,000 jobs to the American economy each year.

There has never been a more critical or opportune time to bolster the education of America's children. NSF's math and science education programs work at the pre-college level to raise the scientific and technological literacy of our children, who are tomorrow's workers, teachers, consumers, and public citizens. NSF further aims to improve the skills and content knowledge of K-12 math and science teachers through innovative programs like the Math and Science Partnerships. NSF programs have become important resources for broadening the participation of under-represented groups such as minorities and women in the fields of science, math, and engineering.

Responding to recent medical and biological breakthroughs, and new opportunities to cure disease, the Federal government this year completes a 5-year, $13.7-billion effort to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health. Yet, related technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, digital mammography, and genomic mapping could not have occurred, and cannot now improve to the next level of proficiency, without underlying knowledge from NSF-supported work in biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences. In comparison, funding for this complementary work of NSF has fallen dangerously out of balance. In fact, this year the proposed $3.7-billion increase to the NIH budget is larger than the total research budget of NSF.

We ask you to address this imbalance and strengthen science and technology research, development, and education by increasing the NSF budget to $5.5 billion for FY2003 ($720 million over its FY2002 level). The increase would be used to expand core science programs, enabling NSF to begin funding highly ranked grant proposals that are turned down solely for lack of funding. It would also fully fund K-12 education programs that have been authorized by the House, as well as large facility projects that have already been approved by the National Science Board. We believe that Congress' long-term goal should be to at least double the resources currently available to NSF.

Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
Ralph Hall (D-TX)
Constance Morella (R-MD)
Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

Hearing Summaries

  • June 19, 2002, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on the FY 2003 National Science Foundation Budget Request.
  • March 13, 2002, House Science Committee hearing on National Science Foundation Funding Priorities.

Hearing on the National Science Foundation Budget Request
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
June 19, 2002

The Bottom Line
 "The emergency is already here."  That was the assessment of the current state of math and science in this country by Former Senator John Glenn, a witness at the June 19th hearing on the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget request for fiscal year 2003.  The three witnesses at this hearing presented a dismal picture of the current state of these disciplines in the US.  Math and science education is flawed, student interest in math and the sciences is decreasing, American students are scoring lower and lower on tests when compared with students globally, and US industries are having to look overseas for individuals qualified enough to fill technical positions.  Witnesses felt it was crucial that the budget of the NSF be increased, as it is an important player in both scientific research and math and science education.  They offered a range of solutions to help address some or all of the problems listed above although it was clear that making the critical improvements in these areas will take much effort and federal monetary support.

Members Present
Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman Christopher S. Bond (R-MO)
Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD)  
Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)  
James M. Jeffords (I-VT)  

Hearing Summary
On June 19th, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the fiscal year 2003 budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) began the hearing, stressing the importance of all fields of science, including the physical sciences, as advancements in one field often help to further advancements in another.  He expressed concern over the current trend of decreased interest in the sciences, with particular mention of decreased student enrollment in math and science programs, decreased student performance, and the continued lack of women and minorities in the science disciplines. Three witnesses testified at this hearing: Rita Colwell, NSF Director; Former Senator John Glenn (D-OH); and Keith Verner, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Science and Health Education and Chief of the Division of Developmental Pediatrics and Learning.  While each witness presented slightly different ideas, all considered improvements in math and science education in the US to be of critical importance for the country's future.

Colwell and Glenn both addressed the shortage of American scientists and the mismatch between employer needs and the skills workers have.  Both were also deeply concerned about declining numbers of students interested in math and the sciences as well as the decreasing power of the US in these fields in the global arena.  Colwell discussed the need to determine which education methods work and which ones do not as this lack of knowledge currently stands in the way of improving math and science education.  Colwell welcomed the bipartisan support of increasing NSF funding and reminded the committee of NSF's importance:

Glenn was asked if math and science eduction, especially in the K-12 system, was "adequate to provide leadership" in the future world -- he clearly believes it is not.  He viewed strength in math and science as the key to US success as it is needed for everything, from travel to communication to maintaining security and quality of life.  While the US used to be the leader in math and science, globalization and increased emphasis on math and science in other countries has resulted in the decrease in US leadership in these fields.  US student test scores are continuing to deteriorate in math and the sciences.  Glenn attributes this to the quality of their instruction.  He points out three main problems: significant percentages of math and science teachers lack training in their subject area; 30% of teachers leave the profession within 3 years, 50% leave it within 5; and teaching methods are based on memorization and writing in the US while other countries stress problem solving, thinking, and providing explanations.  "The emergency is already here," Glenn warned, providing the example that the lack of qualified scientists is so great that immigration waivers have been created to allow foreign individuals to come fill the high tech jobs in the US that Americans are unqualified to fill.  He continued that this promises to be a difficult situation to correct for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is no single education system in this country -- there are 14,700 school boards, each doing their own thing.  Glenn offered three approaches, the details of which were in a report sent out to 85% of the school board members in this country, to address the problem:

Verner began by stating that the US is faced with the crucial challenge to improve math and science education in this country.  He chose to focus on ways the science community can address the problem, stressing a need for:

A question and answer period followed the witness statements.  Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) asked Colwell what NSF would do with double the funding that it cannot do now.  Colwell began by explaining that NSF priorities will always match the federal government's no matter what its budget was.  Having said that, she said they would increase projects to protect and defend the country, invest more in K-12, undergraduate, and graduate programs, and increase the capacity for computer-human interface.  Mikulski prodded Colwell further, asking her for a more practical answer.  Colwell offered that NSF would be able to fund more good projects, increase graduate student stipends -- they would invest in people, hiring them to achieve the above objectives and to explore ideas they cannot explore now.

Kennedy asked Glenn what was really necessary to get well-qualified teachers in every classroom.  Glenn answered that part of the problem was resources.  In order to recruit good people you need to pay them well and offer them a positive working environment.  He looked to the implementation of assessments, summer institutes, improved teacher training, and reward programs.  Also, students need to be challenged by increasing the rigor of coursework.  Glenn felt that many changes could be made most rapidly by school boards.

Jeffords focused on the low salaries that most teachers currently make.  He offered some information he had collected: in other countries, up to 40% of teacher pay comes from the federal government, in the US, 7% of teacher salaries are from federal sources.  Glenn added to this, stating that teachers made 29% less than others with the same degree in 1997 and this percentage is even worse now.  The average starting salary is $25,735 today.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) continued, saying it is a "double disgrace in urban communities", which are "off track before they even start."  She asked for Colwell to comment on something she had heard about the NSF budget currently being tilted towards the life sciences, even though there are other sources of funding for this field, whereas this same support is lacking for other core sciences such as chemistry and physics.  Colwell replied that there was no imbalance.


House Science Subcommittee on Research
Determining NSF budget priorities
March 13, 2002

The House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing on March 13, 2002, to discuss the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The subcommittee requested testimony from scientists to determine appropriate funding levels for NSF.  Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) opened by expressing concern over the budget disparity between NSF and the National Institute of Health (NIH).  Smith suggested  a balance between NIH and NSF by transfering some of the proposed budget increases from NIH to NSF.  Smith emphasized that advances in physical sciences and engineering would revolutionize the way we practice medicine.  House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) praised the Bush Administration for focusing on math and science education and pointed out that the NSF plays a significant role in encouraging this endeavor.  Boehlert added that government must play a role in the funding of basic research.  Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) said that the NSF and NIH budget had "gotten out of balance."  Ehlers, who sits on the House Budget Committee, indicated that NSF will receive a substantial increase for fiscal year (FY) 2003.  He also commented on rumored decreases in the physical sciences budget, stating that he hopes this is untrue.

Dr. Karen Harp from Colgate University, representing the geoscience community, stressed funding for the Major Research Equipment account and undergraduate and graduate research.  Harp continued by saying that K-12 and undergraduate students must be encouraged to pursue fields of science and technology.  She noted that bringing undergraduate students into the study and practice of science with hands-on experiences encourages them to continue into graduate school and on to science and  technology careers.  She also emphasized programs that encourage collaborations among undergraduate institutions and research universities in order to share teaching resources and analytical facilities.

Scott Donnelly, Senior Vice President of Global Research for General Electric Company, spoke to the committee on the shortage of physical science graduates at universities.  Donnelly said, "if we and other industry leaders are seeing significant challenges in recruiting quality scientific talent, newer and smaller companies would certainly face the same, if not more significant challenges."

Dr. Stephen Director of the University of Michigan pointed out that in 2001 NSF funded 10,092 awards out of 32,882 proposals.  Director stated that young faculty members are facing increasingly difficult funding potential.  He added that NSF support should also include increased funding for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities and the Major Research Instrumentation accounts.  He mentioned the MRE projects EarthScope and NEON as being programs worth congressional support.  Director addressed the need for more scientific students by saying, "it is critical to maintain a pool of people trained in these fundamental scientific disciplines."


Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, Coalition for National Science Funding, E&E News, House Science Committee, Library of Congress, and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transporation Committee.

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

Contributed by David Applegate and Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program, Spring 2002 AGI/AAPG Intern Heather R. Golding, and Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Intern Sarah Riggen.

Posted May 18, 2002; Updated December 20, 2002

  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events

agi logo

© 2016. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to:
Privacy Policy