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FY2001 VA/HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Hearing Summaries (5-18-00)

Basic Research Subcommittee of the
House Committee on Science Hearing:

The National Science Foundation FY 2001 Budget Authorization Request, Part I:
Research and Related Activities and Major Research Equipment

February 16, 2000

The Bottom Line
This hearing gave House Science Committee members a chance to hear more about the proposed National Science Foundation (NSF) FY 2001 budget.  The budget proposal increases NSF funding by 17% over the FY 2000 budget.  Included in this increase is the Major Research Equipment (MRE) account, which includes the Earthscope project, as well as continuation of modernization of the South Pole Station and continued funding for the Network for Earthquake Engineering.  Committee members' main concerns included the cost efficiency of NSF activities, the length and size of research grants, the peer review system, and educational programs within NSF.

Members Present
Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-MI)
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC)
Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD)

In his opening statement, Chairman Smith noted that the current NSF budget request has the largest increase in the Foundation's 50-year history.  He said that research funded by NSF has raised the standard of living both nationally and globally and has saved many lives.  Rep. Smith expressed interest in several of the new research programs that would be funded in the new budget, as well as in the expansion of graduate fellowship programs.

Dr. Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation
Dr Eamon Kelley, Chairman of the National Science Board

NSF Director Rita Colwell began her testimony by noting that the $675 million increase for NSF would put the total allocated funds at $4.6 billion for NSF's 50th anniversary.  This increase would allow NSF to strengthen the core sciences, while moving forward in interdisciplinary areas as well.  She outlined four main highlights of the budget:  Information Technology Research, the National Nanoscale Science and Technology and Engineering Initiative, the Biocomplexity in the Environment Initiative, and the Major Research Equipment (MRE) account.  Included in the MRE request is the new Earthscope initiative, which consists of the USArray and San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) projects.  Some projects that would continue to get funding through the MRE account include modernization of the South Pole Station, the Terascale computing system, and the Network for Earthquake Engineering.

Dr. Eamon Kelley, Chairman of the National Science Board (NSB) --  the governing board for NSF  --  was a witness alongside Dr. Colwell.  He noted the release of an NSB report titled NSB Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century that calls for significant increases in resources for environmental research, education, assessment, and infrastructure.  This report has been endorsed by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science and Technology Council.  He said that according to the AAAS, while NSF requests only about 15% of the Federal basic research budget, this agency support nearly 25% of the research conducted at academic institutions and 50% of nonmedical research.  He closed with the assurance that the NSB would continue to monitor the NSF's investments and priority setting in science and technology.

Chairman Smith questioned both witnesses about the internal efficiency of the NSF.  He asked how both efficiency and productivity is demanded.  Kelley assured him that NSF's resources are effectively used and allocated to top priority research.  Colwell said that NSF is encouraging the submittance of electronic proposals and is currently upgrading their computer and telephone systems.  She also noted that the budget increase would help researchers be more efficient by increasing the size and length of research grants.  This will allow for less time to be spent writing grant proposals.  Chairman Smith asked if the internal Directorate structure of the NSF is becoming obsolete.  Colwell stated that interdisciplinary research is strongly encouraged.

Questions from Rep. Rivers (D-MI) and Rep. Boehlert (R-NY) regarded the citation of publicly funded work, and the length of research grants.  Colwell noted that the number of citations of publicly funded research in patent applications is increasing.  Hopefully, she said, the budget would increase the duration of the grants to about 3 years and the median amount to around $108,000.  30% of these grants would go to new research.  Colwell later stated that she would like NSF grants to reach the level of grants funded by the National Institutes of Health -- with durations of 4 to 5 years and values of around $150,000.

Rep. Morella (R-MD) and Rep. Gutknecht (R-MN), both members of the House Budget Committee (along with Chairman Smith), stated that they fully support increased funding for NSF, but that it may be hard to convince the Appropriations Committee to grant the full request.  Morella asked whether the current peer review system was working well.  Colwell said that it is the best system currently available.  She also mentioned that they are trying to increase the number of minorities on peer review panels.

Other questions from Boehlert and Etheridge (D-NC) had to do with increases in educational programs within NSF.  While the requested increase for all NSF programs is around 17%, the increase to educational programs would only be around 5%.

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

Contributed by AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott and Margaret Baker, Government Affairs Program.

Last Updated: May 18, 2000

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