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AGI Fiscal Year 2005 Testimony to Senate VA/HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Testimony Submitted by
Emily M. Lehr, Acting Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
in support of Fiscal Year 2005 Appropriations for the
National Science Foundation

U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies Appropriations
March 26, 2004

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) 2005 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The fundamental research funded by NSF has fueled our nation's economic growth and contributes to improvements in our health, safety, and quality of life. This Subcommittee has shown leadership in expanding the federal investment in fundamental research, leadership that will be even more critical in the coming year. AGI urges the Subcommittee to provide the requested amount for the EarthScope project in the Major Research Equipment, Facilities and Construction account and to go beyond the president's request by expanding support for the Geosciences Directorate within the Research and Related Activities account. Both EarthScope and the core programs of the Geosciences Directorate represent an important investment in the future of our nation and our planet.

AGI also supports the Coalition for National Science Funding and its stated target of a 15 percent increase in total funding for the Foundation. This is the amount specified in Public Law 107-368 enacted in December 2002.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 42 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 society's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

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. Global climate change, natural disasters, energy resources, and water quality are just a few of the issues that benefit from improved geoscience knowledge and understanding. 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.

As noted in the NSF budget request, the Foundation has placed a special emphasis on investments in the physical sciences. We applaud the foundation's emphasis on the need to restore balance and hope that the Subcommittee views this commitment to the physical sciences broadly, including the many subdisciplines of the geosciences within that terminological umbrella. While the decline in funding for many non-biomedical disciplines is real, any such refocusing should remain broad enough to ensure the multidisciplinary nature of today's science, mathematics, engineering, and technology research. A balance must be found that maintains NSF's hallmark of supporting the most promising ideas in research and education.

NSF Geosciences Directorate

The NSF Geosciences Directorate is the principal source of federal support for academic earth scientists and their students who are seeking insight into the processes that ultimately sustain and transform life on this planet. The president has requested a small increase (about two percent) for this directorate as a whole, including a 2.7 percent increase to the Earth Sciences Division and a two percent increase to the Ocean Sciences Division. Moreover, within the $728 million requested for the directorate, there are funds targeted at NSF-wide priorities, which are primarily broad interdisciplinary research and education efforts. Recognizing that these agency priorities areas can result in cutting-edge research and technology, we are nonetheless concerned that the president's request would jeopardize the directorate's core programs to fund what should be complementary initiatives. By meeting the authorized funding level within the Research and Related Activities account, the Subcommittee would allow NSF to strengthen core research by increasing the number and duration of grants.

NSF Major Research Equipment Account: EarthScope

AGI urges the Subcommittee to support the NSF Major Research Equipment, Facilities and Construction budget request of $50.8 million for EarthScope. Taking advantage of new technology in sensors and data distribution, this multi-pronged initiative -- begun thanks to the Subcommittee's support in fiscal year 2003 -- will systematically survey the structure of the Earth's crust beneath North America. The FY2005 request includes continued support for deployment of 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; and 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. AGI supports development in conjunction with NASA of the fourth component, a satellite-based Synthetic Aperture Radar mission that can measure changes in the Earth's crust after earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

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. EarthScope has received a very favorable review from the National Research Council, which released a report in 2001 entitled Review of EarthScope Integrated Science.

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. Involving the public in earth science research will increase appreciation of how such research can lead to improvements in understanding the environment and a better quality of life. As noted by the National Research Council report: "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." EarthScope can also provide a mechanism to integrate a broad array of earth science research data in a unified system to promote cross-disciplinary research and avoid duplication of effort.

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 our planet 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 strongly supports the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program as it has existed at NSF. This is a competitive peer-reviewed grant program and funds are only awarded to the highest quality proposals. Shifting the MSP program entirely to the Department of Education would mean that all MSP funds would be distributed to states on a formula basis. This would provide no incentive for top researchers to continue to participate in this important program and would limit the flexibility of states to target areas of greatest need. The NSF's MSP program focuses on modeling, testing and identification of high-quality math-science activities whereas the Department of Education program does not. Both the NSF and Department of Education MSP programs are complimentary to each other and are both necessary to continue to reach the common goal of providing world-class science and mathematics education to elementary and secondary school students. AGI opposes the transfer of the MSP from NSF to the Department of Education.

We encourage the Education and Human Resources directorate to expand its interaction with the Geosciences directorate 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:

  • Geoscience offers students subject matter that has direct application to their lives and the world around them. Civilization depends on responsible use of Earth's natural resources, including energy, minerals, and water. Moreover, geoscience plays a key role in environmental protection.
  • Geoscience exposes students to a diverse range of interrelated scientific disciplines. It is an excellent vehicle for integrating the theories and methods of chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics.
  • Geoscience awareness is a key element in reducing the impact of natural hazards on citizens -- hazards that include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

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, women, and people with disabilities. 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. 212 (voice), 703 379 7563 (fax),, or 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302-1502.

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

Posted: May 12, 2005


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