American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Statement by
Dr. David Applegate
of the American Geological Institute to the
Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
on FY 1997 Appropriations for the National Science Foundation
May 10, 1996

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am Dr. David Applegate, director of government affairs for the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present AGI's testimony in support of fiscal year (FY) 1997 appropriations for the National Science Foundation. In this time of fiscal constraints, it is imperative that we do not starve scientific research that fuels economic growth and improves our health, safety, and quality of life. This subcommittee has shown leadership in protecting NSF's budget in the recently enacted FY 1996 appropriations, and that leadership will be even more critical in the coming year.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 29 geoscientific and professional societies 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 earthquake tremors that disrupted a baseball game at the Kingdome in Seattle last week were a solemn reminder of the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area just before Game 3 of the World Series was to begin at Candlestick Park. The devastating floods that inundated the Midwest in 1993 and again in 1995 also provide powerful reminders of the havoc that natural hazards cause and the role of the geosciences in addressing these costly problems. Recent earthquakes and floods have resulted in tens of billions of dollars in emergency supplemental appropriations and considerably 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. 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.

The magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake killed 67 people, but an earthquake of approximately the same size that hit Kobe, Japan last year left 5,239 dead. Likewise, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake that struck Los Angeles in January 1994 caused 57 deaths, whereas an earthquake with a similar magnitude in Iran killed 55,000. The relatively low death tolls in recent California quakes were the result of a variety of factors but 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. NSF has also developed an initiative in active tectonics research to improve our fundamental understanding of the processes that drive earthquakes, volcanoes, and related hazards.

Natural hazards reduction is just one example of a national priority issue in which geoscience research and information enhance society's ability to make wise policy decisions. Other issues include resource development, environmental protection, waste disposal, and land-use planning. Federal investments in geoscience R&D continue to pay enormous dividends. 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.

Pivotal Role of NSF

The National Science Foundation is America's premier agency for basic research and science education, and it plays a pivotal role in maintaining American pre-eminence 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 off 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 46 years ago, and it has become the envy of the world. AGI urges Congress to reaffirm its commitment to American pre-eminence in science and technology by fully funding the FY 1997 NSF budget request of $3.325 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 increased accordingly.

The NSF Directorate for Geosciences is the principal source of federal support for research in earth, oceanographic, and atmospheric sciences conducted at U.S. universities. The budget request for this directorate is $454 million, including $153 million for Atmospheric Sciences, $96 million for Earth Sciences, and $205 million for Ocean Sciences. Much of the increase from the FY 1996 levels is due to funds transferred from other accounts, particularly the Academic Research Infrastructure account that was zeroed out. The budget request maintains support for many core geoscience research programs and expands support for the global seismic network, interdisciplinary projects in environmental geochemistry and biogeochemistry, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and international collaborations. The proposed budget represents a modest investment in the future of our nation and our planet. AGI urges Congress to fully fund the FY 1997 budget request for the NSF Directorate for Geosciences. Among the many reasons for supporting geoscience research are the following:

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.

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 Southern California Earthquake Center, one of 25 NSF Science and Technology Centers established throughout the country, represents a major commitment by the NSF to improving the methodology to forecast future earthquakes 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 of earthquake engineers, emergency preparedness officials, regional planners, and the general public. 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 continental and ocean drilling programs demonstrate its ability to foster extensive international cooperation.

Geoscience Education

Geoscience 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 utilization and environmental protection. The NSF can improve the nation's scientific literacy by supporting the full integration of geoscience information into mainstream science education at the K-12 and college levels. We recommend that the NSF and the geoscience community jointly develop and implement strategic plans for improving geoscience education to levels of recognition similar to other scientific disciplines because:

We urge the 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 level, graduate 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. Scientists must continue to address the underlying factors that prevent such participation.

I appreciate this opportunity to testify before the committee and 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

Last updated May 13, 1996

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