CONGRESSIONAL ACTION ALERT: NSF Doubling Plan on Way to White House

(Posted 11-18-02)

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: At three in the morning last Friday, 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.

************

First it was on, then it was off, then it was on again. Late Thursday night, the Senate passed a compromise version of legislation authorizing expenditures for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years. The revised bill, H.R. 4664, then was sent across to the House, which passed it by unanimous consent at 2:59 a.m. on Friday morning, clearing the way for a presidential signature. An earlier House-Senate compromise had faltered when the White House expressed concern over out-year funding levels for the agency and the bill's explicit emphasis on doubling the agency's budget.

Even as the Senate deal was struck, an AGI special update reported that this issue would likely wait for the new Congress. As a further reminder that Congress is a changeable place, we also reported that the House had finished its work for the 107th Congress, and yet they could come back this week, albeit quite briefly, if the Senate makes changes to the bill establishing a Department of Homeland Security. And Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), enjoying his last days as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is reportedly making a last-ditch effort to attach some of the fiscal year (FY) 2003 appropriations bills to the House-passed continuing resolution (CR). With the House Appropriations Committee expressing no interest in Byrd's plan, however, the Senate is still expected to simply pass the CR -- which would fund the non-defense federal agencies at FY 2002 levels through January 11, 2003. Staff in both chambers will likely spend the next two months hammering out deals on the 11 remaining bills and roll them together into a single omnibus bill ready to be taken up in January.

A Call for Doubling NSF's Budget

Although H.R. 4664 addresses a number of issues relating to NSF, attention has focused on the authorization of funds to put the foundation on a path to double its budget over the next five years. Back in October, an earlier version of the bill that had passed the House was hung up at the Senate committee level in part due to objections from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Since then, the two chambers worked together with the administration to draft a compromise bill that could quickly be brought up for consideration after the elections. In its final version, H.R. 4664 lays out detailed recommended funding for the next three years -- OMB's preferred length for authorization bills -- and provides overall recommended allocation for an additional two years that would bring the agency's numbers up to double their current level. The authorized levels provided in the bill are as follows:

The bill does not provide details on how the RRA funds are to be distributed between the NSF directorates, but it does require that NSF submit an annual plan for allocation of funds to the key congressional committees. These reports must respond to the questions on how the increased funds: "will affect average size and duration of grants,…will affect trends in research support for major fields and subfields,…[and will] achieve an appropriate balance among major fields and subfields."

Science and Math Education

Much of the language in H.R. 4664, which incorporates parts of five separate House-passed bills, addresses science and math education. It provides details on several programs that aim to improve science and math education at the elementary and secondary levels, recruit and retain science and math educators, and provide these educators with professional development needed to meet state requirements. The NSF Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program provides competitive, merit-based grants targeted to reach these goals. MSP applicants must include an institution of higher education or eligible nonprofit organization along with one or more local educational agencies and may include either a state educational agency or the private sector. Funds from the program are to be used "for activities that draw upon the expertise of the partners to improve elementary and secondary education in mathematics or science and that are consistent with State mathematics and science student achievement standards." MSP would also support activities in teacher development, including the training of Master Teachers who would be a resource for other teachers on science and math content and pedagogy.

The bill establishes the Robert Noyce Scholarship program to support the recruitment, retention, and training of science and math educators. Through competitive, merit-based grants, institutions of higher education (or a consortium) can work to develop programs to encourage math, science, engineering, and technology undergraduates to pursue a career in elementary and secondary teaching. The program also would provide scholarships for individual science, math, and engineering students for up to the last two years of a baccalaureate.

Also included in the bill is the language from House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert's (R-NY) Tech Talent legislation (H.R. 3130) that aims to increase the number of students pursuing degrees in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Using competitive, merit-based grants, the program will support additional research opportunities at the undergraduate level, build mentorships, work to bridge the transition between two-year institutions and baccalaureate programs for students, and build partnerships with industry.

Another provision establishes Centers for Research on Mathematics and Science Learning and Education Improvement. The bill notes that the purpose of these centers is "to conduct and evaluate research in cognitive science, education, and related fields and to develop ways in which the results of such research can be applied in elementary school and secondary school classrooms to improve the teaching of mathematics and science."

Other Provisions

As a consequence of congressional criticism over NSF's management capabilities, the bill requires that several reports be produced over the next year. Because many of the science and math education programs are extensions of programs that currently exist within the Department of Education or other federal agencies, the bill requires NSF to work with the National Academy of Sciences to ensure that programs are not unnecessarily duplicated within the federal government. NSF also is to work with the National Academies and the OMB to determine "the source of discrepancies in Federal reports on obligations and actual expenditures of Federal research and development funding."

Reflecting concerns expressed by Members of Congress during hearings with NSF leadership, the bill also includes provisions to change the manner in which agency priorities are set by the National Science Board -- NSF's appointed governing body. Future NSB meetings are to be open, and the body is to develop and submit a numbered priority list of Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction projects and the criteria used to evaluate the priorities.

Next Steps

Now that Congress has passed H.R. 4664, it awaits presidential approval, which is expected within the coming weeks. Before the 107th Congress adjourns for good, please contact your congressional delegation to thank them for their work to put NSF on a path to double its budget over the next five years and to strengthen science education at all levels. Plus, encourage them to support the appropriations that will turn this doubling goal into a reality. If you wish to call, the U.S. Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 will connect you to your representative and senator's office. With congressional mail still being irradiated and considerably delayed, e-mail has become the standard way to write. Congressional e-mail addresses can be found at http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov. E-mails should use the form:

The Honorable _____________
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator ______:

or

The Honorable ______________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative ________:

Please let us know of any contacts you make -- govt@agiweb.org, fax 703-379-7563, voice 703-379-2480 ext. 212, or AGI Government Affairs Program, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302.


Alert prepared by Margaret A. Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Coalition for National Science Funding, Library of Congress, National Council for Science and the Environment, National Science Foundation, and U.S. House Science Committee.

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

Posted November 18, 2002


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


agi logo

© 2014. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to: webmaster@agiweb.org.
Privacy Policy