AGI Testimony on Fiscal Year 2003 Appropriations for the National Science Foundation

 Testimony Submitted by the
American Geological Institute
in support of Fiscal Year 2003 Appropriations for the National Science Foundation
to the
U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies Appropriations
April 16, 2003

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) 2003 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 carefully examine the president’s request. In particular, we encourage the Subcommittee to reconsider the requested program transfers, enhance support for core programs in the Geosciences Directorate, and expand the Major Research Equipment account to accommodate both existing projects and the requested new starts. Such increases represent 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 40 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.

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.

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.

NSF Geosciences Directorate

The NSF Geosciences Directorate (GEO) 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. The president’s request appears to provide a significant increase to this directorate, but the bulk of the increase is due to several proposed transfers. In fact, all of the proposed transfers into NSF go into this one directorate. As a result, an apparent 13.4% requested increase for GEO includes only a 1.2% increase for existing programs. Whether or not the transfers are approved, we encourage the Subcommittee to provide real increases to existing programs in the Earth Sciences, Ocean Sciences and Atmospheric Sciences Divisions within GEO.

AGI asks the Subcommittee to take a hard look at these proposed transfers to determine whether they fit the NSF mission or whether they are better left in their current agencies. We recognize that these transfers reflect the president’s desire to reward agencies like NSF that have demonstrated good management practices. But there may be a mission mismatch, particularly in the case of the proposed transfer of the U.S. Geological Survey’s  Toxic Substances Hydrology program, which funds highly targeted, long-term, mission-oriented research that is very different from the fundamental, university-based research NSF supports.

NSF Major Research Equipment Account: EarthScope

AGI urges the subcommittee to support the NSF Major Research Equipment (MRE) budget request of $35 million for a new earth science 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 FY2003 request includes support for three components: a dense array of digital seismometers that will be deployed in stages across the country; a 4-km deep borehole through the San Andreas Fault, housing a variety of instruments that can continuously monitor the conditions within the fault zone; a network of state-of-the-art Global Positioning System (GPS) stations and sensitive strainmeters to measure the deformation of the constantly shifting boundary between the Pacific and North
American tectonic plates. The fourth component will move forward in conjunction with NASA: a satellite-based Synthetic Aperture Radar 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.

EarthScope has broad support from the earth science community with endorsements from a number of AGI’s member societies, including the Association of American State Geologists, Geological Society of America, Seismological Society of America and Society of Exploration Geophysicists. The National Science Board has not only endorsed EarthScope but has listed it as a priority for FY 2003, a first for the Board. EarthScope has received a very favorable review from the National Academy of Sciences, which released a report last year entitled Review of EarthScope Integrated Science. Some key assertions from the report:

“The committee concludes that EarthScope is an extremely well articulated project that has resulted from consideration by many scientists over several years, in some cases up to a decade. During that time, the proponents have become experts, not just in the observing technology but in the data handling and retrieval systems that are necessary to manage information on this vast scale.”

“The committee concludes that EarthScope will have a substantial impact on earth science in America and worldwide. It will provide scientists with vast amounts of data that will be used for decades.”

 “The time is right to undertake a full exploration of the nature of the continental crust of the United States and its underlying mantle. Such exploration is a critical requirement for understanding the nature of the earth on which we live and how society needs to manage and adapt to its rhythms and processes.”

“EarthScope provides an excellent opportunity to excite and involve the general public, as well as K-12 and college students, to work together  with the earth science community to understand the earth on which they live.”

“The NSF should ensure that EarthScope’s scientific potential is effectively realized and capitalized upon by continuing its support for the disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs within NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) that form the scientific foundation of the project.”

“The committee concludes that InSAR is an integral part of the EarthScope vision that will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the project, and it should not be viewed merely as a desirable add-on to the project. The committee urges NSF and NASA to collaborate to realize this goal at the earliest opportunity, so as to make [Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar] capability a reality during the lifetime of the other EarthScope components.”

AGI applauds the Subcommittee’s commitment to fund existing MRE projects through to their completion, but at the same time we strongly encourage the Subcommittee to provide enough funding to accommodate the president’s requested projects as well.

NSF Support for Earth Science Education

Earth science plays 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 use and environmental protection. NSF can improve the nation's scientific literacy by supporting the full integration of earth science information into mainstream science education at the K-12 and college levels. The inclusion of earth science as a key component in the National Science Education Standards developed by the National Academy of Sciences presents a tremendous opportunity to achieve this goal.

AGI urges the subcommittee to support the 25% increase that the president has requested for the NSF Math and Science Partnerships program with the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR). These partnerships will be awarded through competitive, merit-reviewed process, and will work to develop and implement plans to raise math and
science standards at both the classroom level and above. Unlike the similar partnerships that would be provided to each state by the Department of Education, the NSF partnerships will provide an opportunity for university scientists to play an active role.

We encourage the EHR 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. We must all work together to address the underlying factors that prevent such participation.

I appreciate this opportunity to provide testimony to the Subcommittee and would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record. I can be reached at 703 379 2480 ext. 228, 703 379 2480 fax, applegate@agiweb.org, or 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302-1502.


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 17, 2002


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