Government Affairs Program ACTION ALERT

Senators Needed to Support Increased Funding for NSF

(Posted 7-21-00; Revised 1-8-01)

Update: As of September 15, 2000, forty-one senators have signed onto the Bond-Mikulski "Dear Colleague" letter: Spencer Abraham (R-MI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Wayne Allard (R-CO),  John Ashcroft (R-MO), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Conrad Burns (R-MT), Max Cleland (D-GA), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Richard Durbin (R-IL), John Edwards (D-NC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Frist (R-TN), Bob Graham (D-FL), Rod Grams (R-MN), Tim Hutchison (R-AR), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), James Jeffords (R-VT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Connie Mack (R-FL), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Charles Robb (D-VA), Paul Sarbanes (D-ND), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Strom Thurmond (R-SC), and Paul David Wellstone (D-MN).

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) have sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter requesting support to double the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget over the next five years.  Bond and Mikulski -- the Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NSF -- are asking their peers to sign onto the letter that they plan to send to Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (SD).  AGI urges geoscientists to contact their senators and recommend that they sign onto the Bond-Mikulski letter. The text of the "Dear Colleague" letter and support letters that accompanied it are attached.


This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  It also marks the largest budget request increase in the agency’s history – 17% (or $673 million) over last year’s allocation.  Despite the growing budget surplus, Congress agreed to a budget resolution that maintains a tight allocation for discretionary spending, making the NSF budget request impossible to reach.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has delayed its markup of the fiscal year (FY) 2001 VA/HUD and Independent Agencies bill, which funds NSF, in hopes of congressional action to increase the pot of discretionary money.

In order to press this case, Senators Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) -- the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations VA/HUD and Independent Agencies Subcommittee -- sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter asking other senators to join them in asking Majority Leader Trent Lott and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to double the budget of NSF over the next five years.  As their press release states, "NSF supports fundamental research in many fields of science that contribute to America’s health and well-being....Investments in the NSF have yielded numerous new products, as well as entire industries, such as biotechnology and e-commerce."

NSF Director Rita Colwell justified the foundation's requested budget increase at a July 12th Senate hearing by saying: "since its founding fifty years ago the National Science Foundation has been an important and vital catalyst for discovery and innovation.  From the information technology revolution to the genomic revolution and everything in between – MRIs, lasers, the Internet, Doppler radar, and countless other innovations – NSF-supported fundamental research has advanced our society."

Seeking to build on popular support for biomedical research that has led to large increases for the National Institutes of Health, the Bond-Mikulski letter emphasizes the role NSF-funded basic research has played in medical advances. NSF funded basic research from the last decades underpins the economic and technological success that the nation is now enjoying.  The call for a doubling in five years was made earlier this year by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), of which AGI is a member.

Please write or call your senators to urge them to sign onto the Bond-Mikulski letter and support science funding. The senators have not set a deadline for signatures but action in the next two weeks would be most effective. The U.S. Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 will connect you to your senator's office. Letters should specifically refer to the July 12th Bond-Mikulski "Dear Colleague" letter and should include a brief example of how geoscience research has benefited society – for example, better understanding of natural hazards and resulting improvements in mitigation – and use the format:

The Honorable __________
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

Please let us know of any contacts you make --, fax 703-379-7563, voice 703-379-2480 ext. 212, or AGI Government Affairs Program, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302.

"Dear Colleague" Cover Letter from Bond and Mikulski

July 12, 2000

Dear Colleague:

We are writing to seek your signature on a letter we propose to send to Majority Leader Trent Lott and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle calling for a long-term plan to double the budget of the National Science Foundation over the next five years.  The rationale for this increase in described in the enclosed letter.  In addition, we have received letters of support from two leading physicians, which we have also enclosed.  If you would like to join us in signing this letter, please contact Cheh Kim of Senator Bond’s staff at 224-7858 or Paul Carliner of Senator’s Mikulski’s staff at 224-7231.

Thank you for considering this.


Christopher S. "Kit" Bond                                  Barbara A. Mikulski
U.S. Senator                                                        U.S. Senator

 "Dear Colleague" Letter to Lott and Daschle

July 12, 2000

Senator Trent Lott                                              Senator Tom Daschle
Majority Leader                                                 Democratic Leader
S-230 Capitol                                                     S-221 Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510                                   Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Majority Leader Lott and Democratic Leader Daschle:

We are writing as longtime supporters of investments in fundamental research and education – the building blocks of the new economy. Just as we have worked collectively to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget over five years, we believe it is now time to launch a parallel effort to double the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) over five years. It is our strong belief that the success of NIH's efforts to cure deadly diseases such as cancer depends on the underpinning research supported by NSF.

The NSF, currently celebrating its 50th  Anniversary, supports fundamental research that contributes to the nation's health and well-being. As the Council on Competitiveness has noted: "For the past 50 years, most, if not all, of the technological advances have been directly or indirectly linked to improvements in fundamental understanding." Business Week adds: "What's needed is a serious stimulant to basic research, which has been lagging in recent years. Without continued gains in education and training and new innovations and scientific findings – the raw materials of growth in the New Economy – the technological dynamic will stall."

NSF's impact over the past half century has been monumental – especially in the field of medical technologies and research. The investments have also spawned not only new products, but also entire industries, such as biotechnology, Internet providers, e-commerce, and geographic information systems. Medical technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, digital mammography and genomic mapping could not have occurred, and cannot now improve to the next level of proficiency, without underlying knowledge from NSF- supported work in biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences.  In 1993, NSF support made it possible to detect the cause of a deadly hantavirus outbreak in the American Southwest. NSF-supported research on plants led to the discovery of Taxol, a derivative of Yew trees that is effective against certain cancers. The benefits of NSF research to medical science and technology has been recognized by leading doctors such as the former head of the NIH, Harold Varmus and the President of the Institute of Medicine, Kenneth Shine.

NSF research today is also creating new ways for disabled people to participate fully as contributing members of society. An NSF grant made it possible to publish a dictionary of American Sign Language. NSF support is developing technologies for speech recognition and World Wide Web access for the disabled. And someday it may be possible to restore vision to the blind through ongoing NSF support for the "eye chip," computerized video technology that would be surgically implanted in the eye.

New NSF support for research in nanotechnology, high-speed computing, plant genome research, biocomplexity, and cognitive neuroscience will further advance the state of technological change and improve our quality of life through creation of new products, a better understanding of how humans behave, and how our ecological systems can survive.

Furthermore, every generation requires a group of skilled and innovative scientists and engineers to make the new discoveries that propel society into the future. NSF's educational programs from pre-kindergarten to graduate school train the next generation of inventors and discoverers. For industry, this is the best type of technology transfer.

Senators may disagree about the precise mix of fiscal and monetary policies that will ensure a continuation of America's current economic prosperity. But there is a growing consensus that investing in fundamental scientific research is one of the best things we can do to keep our nation economically strong. This fact has been recognized by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, NASDAQ President Alfred Berkeley, the Committee for Economic Development, and many other widely respected experts.

For all these reasons, we hope you will join us in adopting a five-year goal of doubling the National Science Foundation by fiscal year 2006.


Christopher S. "Kit" Bond                                  Barbara A. Mikulski
U.S. Senator                                                       U.S. Senator

Supporting Letter from Institute of Medicine President Kenneth Shine

June 23, 2000

The Honorable Christopher "Kit" Bond
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Bond:

I am writing to express my support for the concept of doubling the NSF budget over the next few years.

It is a common misconception that advances in biomedical research are only supported by the National Institutes of Health. While the Congress has been both generous and wise in its support of the NIH in recent years, it is important to note that advances in medicine are very dependent upon other fields of science that are mostly supported by the National Science Foundation Science is interrelated, and so we need to have balance in this funding for medicine to move forward

The late Lewis Thomas, the former head of Yale Medical School and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, once observed that the greatest advances in improving human health was the development of clean drinking water and sewage systems So we owe our health as much to civil engineering as we do to biology The development of the pacemaker, in which I played a minor role. was not only a result of our study of cardiovascular systems, but also electrical engineering Without the miniaturization of circuits and transistors, the pacemaker would never have become the lifesaving device that it has. One could name many other illustrations of how the physics, chemistry, and mathematics have been at the core of developments that improve human health

This will continue to be the case. Some of the most promising and exciting prospects and fields right now have arisen from science and engineering disciplines supported by the NSF Bioengineering, new materials, prosthetics, and information technologies are vital as basic research fields that will improve health care in the future.

NSF supports all of these fields, and I believe that a doubling of the NSF budget will pay for itself many times over in terms of saving costs, and, more importantly, improving human health.


Kenneth I Shine, M.D.
Institute of Medicine

cc:     Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Science
        Wm. A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering

Supporting Letter from Former NIH Director Harold Varmus

June 26, 2000

The Honorable Senator Christopher Bond
274 Russell Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Attention: Cheh Kim

Dear Senator Bond:

I am writing in support of efforts that are being mounted to double the budget of the National Science Foundation over the next five years. I join this effort because the opportunities for investing wisely in science have never been greater and because it is important for grant-making agencies like the NSF to try to plan for sustained growth over several years.

The NSF has a splendid history of sustaining fundamental research across a broad spectrum of disciplines, and this approach is especially important now as laboratory work becomes increasingly interdisciplinary. In my own field of medical science, rapid advances in the deciphering of genomes and protein structures are revolutionizing our understanding of biology. Essential contributions to both genome sequencing and determination of protein structures have come from work supported by the NSF, and efforts to take advantage of this new information will require expanded activity in disciplines traditionally dependent on the NSF---including computer science, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Indeed, from the perspective of a medical scientist, there could be no more opportune time to guarantee the vitality of American science funded by the NSF.

As I learned during my recent tenure as Director of the National Institutes of Health, it is crucial that leaders of science agencies be able to anticipate several years of steady growth during periods of expansion. These agencies make multi-year awards and are responsible for training and research infrastructure, as well as the operational costs of doing research. To make effective use of a stronger financial base, it is necessary to plan the use of expanded dollars over a multi-year period. For this reason, it is extremely important to campaign for a measured expansion of funds, such as that embodied in a plan to double the NSF budget over five years. In this way, you can be assured that the agency's leaders will have an opportunity to make the most thoughtful use of this significant increment.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in this laudable effort.


Harold Varmus, MD
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Alert prepared by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: CNSF, American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, Senator Barbara Mikulski’s website, and hearing testimony.

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

Posted July 21, 2000; Revised September 15, 2000

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