American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


National Science Foundation -- Senate Testimony (FY 1995)



                       Testimony of

              AMERICAN GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 

                          to the

      Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies

                Committee on Appropriations

                   United States Senate

                          on the

        National Science Foundation FY 1995 Budget



                         May 1994

              Prepared by Craig M. Schiffries




Madam Chair and Members of the Committee:

I am Dr. Craig M. Schiffries, Director of Government Affairs for
the American Geological Institute.  Thank you for this
opportunity to testify in support of fiscal year 1995
appropriations for the National Science Foundation.   

The American Geological Institute is a nonprofit federation of 25
geoscientific and professional associations that represent more
than 80,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth
scientists.  In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI
Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate
Members.  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. 


Geoscience and Society

The disastrous earthquake that struck Los Angeles on Jan. 17,
1994 and the devastating floods that inundated the Midwest in
1993 provide powerful reminders of the vital role the geosciences
play in an ever growing range of national goals.  Recent
earthquakes and floods have resulted in more than $10 billion in
emergency supplemental appropriations and even larger private
losses.  The societal benefits of geoscience R&D on earthquakes
and other geologic hazards extend to such areas as housing,
transportation, commerce, agriculture, and human health and
safety.  

The magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake caused 51 deaths, whereas
an earthquake with a similar magnitude last year in Iran resulted
in 55,000 deaths.  Likewise, the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that
stuck San Francisco on Oct. 17, 1989, caused 62 fatalities, but a
magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Armenia caused 25,000 deaths.  The
relatively low death tolls in recent California quakes are at
least partly attributable to geoscientific and engineering
research supported by the NSF and other federal and state
agencies that participate in the National Earthquake Hazards
Reduction Program.  If recent history is a reliable guide, then
federal investments in R&D on geologic hazards will be repaid
many times over by reduced losses, reduced loss of tax revenues,
and reduced expenditure for federal emergency and disaster relief
funds.  

Geoscience research and information enhance society's ability to
make wise policy decisions on resource development, environmental
protection, natural hazards reduction, waste disposal, and
land-use planning.  Federal investments in geoscience R&D
continue to pay enormous dividends.  In addition to recognizing
the return on federal investments in geoscience R&D, it is
important to emphasize the need to maintain the health of the
basic science on which applications and policy decisions must be
ultimately based.  When it comes to appropriations for geoscience
research and education, nothing less than the survival of our way
of life and our planet are at stake.  


Overwhelming Success of NSF

The United States is at a crossroads in science and technology
policy.  In the post-Cold War era, a commitment to sustained
investment in scientific research and education is necessary to
increase our standard of living, promote economic growth, improve
the competitiveness of American industry, create new jobs for
American workers, protect the environment, improve human health,
and maintain national security.  As President Clinton said in A
Vision of Change for America, "Investments in research and
development (R&D) tend to be the strongest and most consistent
positive influence on productivity growth."  

The National Science Foundation is America's premier agency for
basic research and science education, and it plays a pivotal role
in maintaining American preeminence in science and technology. 
NSF-sponsored research has resulted in discoveries that led to
the formation of entire new industries and the creation of
millions of new jobs.  Past investments in NSF-supported research
have paid handsomely, affecting almost every sector of American
life.  Maintaining and building upon this foundation is critical
to America's future.  

The NSF has been an overwhelming success since its inception 44
years ago, and despite recent criticism at home, it has become
the envy of the world.  American preeminence in science and
technology cannot be taken for granted.  AGI urges Congress to
reaffirm its commitment to American preeminence in science and
technology by fully funding the fiscal 1995 NSF budget request of
$3.20 billion.  


NSF Directorate for Geosciences

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 be increased accordingly.  

The NSF Directorate for Geosciences supports research in earth,
oceanographic, and atmospheric sciences.  It is the main source
of federal support for academic research in the geosciences
conducted at U.S. universities.  The budget request for the NSF
Directorate for Geosciences is $443.1 million, including $147.9
million for Atmospheric Sciences, $87.3 million for Earth
Sciences, and $207.9 million for Ocean Sciences.  The budget
request maintains support for many core geoscience research
programs and expands support for interagency initiatives,
particularly the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the
High-Performance Computing and Communications initiative.  The
proposed budget represents a modest investment in the future of
our nation and our planet.  AGI urges Congress to fund fully the
fiscal 1995 budget request for the NSF Directorate for
Geosciences.  Among the many reasons for supporting geoscience
research are the following:

o    Geoscience research includes applied research that addresses
critical societal problems, such as environmental protection;
pollution; global climate change; water, energy and mineral
resources; and natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions, floods, and landslides.  In the geosciences, basic
research and applied research are intimately connected.

o    Geoscience research includes basic research at the frontier
of global exploration.  It provides a basic understanding of the
Earth, its oceans, and its atmosphere.  Expanding the frontier of
global exploration educates the American people by capturing the
public imagination. 

o    Geoscience research is a driving force behind the
development of new technologies, including remote-sensing
satellites, high-performance computing and communications,
geographic information systems, drilling technologies, advanced
materials, and environmental technologies.  

o    Geoscience research provides the underpinning for
hydrological and environmental management and land-use planning. 

o    Geoscience research is critical to national defense.  For
example, geoscientists have provided the defense community with
sophisticated methods to detect underground nuclear testing, to
map the Earth's magnetic field to assist submarine navigation,
and to gauge the Earth's gravity field to assist satellite
tracking and navigation.  

o    An improved predictive understanding of the integrated Earth
system, including human interactions, will provide benefits by
anticipating and planning for possible impacts on commerce,
agriculture, resource utilization, environmental quality, and
human health.  

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.  Individual
investigators and small research teams are the backbone of the
research and graduate education system.  NSF should maintain and
enhance support for this vital component of geoscience research. 


While continuing to serve as the mainstay for the individual
investigator, the NSF should also continue addressing other
components of our national research enterprise that deserve and
require its attention and support.  The NSF has evolved into an
agency that devotes a significant proportion of its resources to
major projects and research centers, as well as to interagency,
multidisciplinary, and international programs.  The U.S. Global
Change Research Program demonstrates NSF's ability to participate
effectively in a large, multidisciplinary, interagency research
program that addresses strategic national goals.  The Ocean
Drilling Program demonstrates its ability to foster extensive
international cooperation.  The Southern California Earthquake
Center, one of 25 NSF Science and Technology Centers established
throughout the United States, represents a major commitment by
the NSF to improving the methodology to forecast future
earthquake occurrences and predict the ground motions resulting
from such events throughout Southern California. The center has a
mandate to transfer its knowledge to a user community consisting
of earthquake engineers, emergency preparedness officials,
regional planners, and the general public.  


Geoscience Education

Geoscience plays a unique and essential role in today's rapidly
changing world.  A knowledge of geoscience is critically
important because most human activities involve interactions with
the planet Earth.  A basic understanding of the Earth is required
for citizens to make informed decisions about the delicate
balance between resource utilization and environmental
protection.  Most K-12 teachers are poorly trained in the
geosciences, and many have had little or no training in the
geosciences beyond elementary or junior high school.  At the K-12
level, geoscience education has been largely underemphasized and
underfunded for 40 years.  We cannot afford to let that situation
persist for another 40 years.  

The NSF can improve the nation's scientific literacy by fostering
the integration of geoscience education into mainstream science
education programs at the K-12 level and the college level.  We
recommend that the NSF and the geoscience community jointly
develop and implement strategic plans for improving geoscience
education and achieving parity with other scientific disciplines. 
A major transformation is taking place in geoscience education,
and we urge NSF to continue playing an active role in that
transformation.  Several reasons for improving geoscience
education for all students are the following:  

o    Geoscience offers students subject matter which has direct
application to their lives and the world around them.  The study
of geoscience at the elementary school level provides an
effective way to create a positive attitude about science.

o    Civilization is absolutely dependent upon responsible
utilization of Earth's energy, mineral, and water resources.  

o    Geoscience plays a key role in environmental protection. 

o    Geoscience offers experience in a diverse range of
interrelated scientific disciplines. It serves as an excellent
vehicle for utilizing and integrating the theories and methods of
chemistry, physics, and biology.  

o    Geoscience education and awareness is a key element in
reducing the impact of natural hazards, such as earthquakes,
volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. 

o    Geoscience issues are becoming increasingly intertwined with
public policy.

At the college level, a dramatic decline in earth science majors
has caused concern among educators and administrators.  One
possible explanation is that curricula are lagging behind student
interest in environmental issues and changing employment
opportunities.  New teaching methods combined with improvements
in college and pre-college geoscience curricula may help capture
and hold the curiosity and enthusiasm of students.  At the
graduate level, there is a need for more NSF fellowships.  The
need for graduate fellowships is particularly critical in the
geosciences because students are increasingly interested in
conducting research that crosses traditional disciplinary,
departmental, and funding boundaries.  

Ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented among geoscience
majors and graduate students.  Women are also underrepresented
among geoscience majors, and the problem is substantially worse
at the graduate level.  It is unlikely that the geoscience
profession can flourish without greater participation by ethnic
minorities and women.  Continued NSF leadership is needed to
increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups
through scholarships and mentoring, and to develop strategies to
address underlying factors that prevent greater participation of
those groups.  

AGI appreciates this opportunity to present our views to the
committee.  We would be pleased to answer any questions or to
provide additional information for the record. 



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

Last updated December 1, 1995

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