American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Testimony: House VA, HUD & Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Statement by
Dr. David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
of the American Geological Institute to the
Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
in support of Fiscal Year 1998 Appropriations for the
National Science Foundation
May 1, 1997

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am Dr. David Applegate, and I direct the government affairs program for the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present AGI's testimony in support of fiscal year (FY) 1998 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). 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 recent years, and that leadership will be even more critical in the coming year.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 31 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.

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. 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 science and technology by fully funding the President's FY 1998 budget request for NSF of $3.367 billion and further urges that funding for the agency be increased to $3.5 billion. This requested increase is consistent with authorizing legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives. The request also reflects AGI's participation in the Coalition for National Science Funding, which is calling for a 7.1 percent increase for NSF. In addition, AGI President Edward C. Roy Jr. has joined with the presidents of 42 other scientific societies in signing a letter that calls for an across-the-board increase in science research funding in the range of 7 percent. These proposed increases represent a modest investment in the future of our nation and our planet at a time when we can ill afford not to make that investment.

The Societal Value of Geoscience Research

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 increase accordingly. 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.

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. The earthquake tremors that shook California this past weekend and the rushing floodwaters of the Red River of the North that devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota were 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. NSF has an ongoing initiative in active tectonics research to improve our fundamental understanding of the processes that drive earthquakes, volcanoes, and related hazards.

Among the many reasons for supporting geoscience research are the following:

NSF Support for Geoscience Research

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 $452.6 million, including $95.1 million for Earth Sciences, $151.3 million for Atmospheric Sciences, and $206.2 million for Ocean Sciences. The NSF Office of Polar Research Programs also supports earth-science research The budget request maintains support for core geoscience research programs at levels only slightly higher than in FY 1997, which are at or below the level of inflation. AGI urges Congress to fully fund the FY 1998 budget request for the NSF Directorate for Geosciences and Office of Polar Research Programs, and we further urge you to consider augmenting the request as part of an overall increase for NSF.

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, NSF should also continue addressing other components of our national research enterprise that deserve and require its attention and support. 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 NSF to improving the methodology to forecast future earthquakes and better understand the ground motions resulting from seismic 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.

NSF Support for Geoscience Education

The geosciences play 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. 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. The inclusion of the geosciences as a key component in the science education standards developed by the National Academy of Sciences presents a tremendous opportunity to achieve this goal. Improving geoscience education to levels of recognition similar to other scientific disciplines is important because:

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 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.

The NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) has taken the lead in supporting the educational goals described above. We encourage this directorate to expand its interaction with the Directorate for Geosciences to further integrate research and education activities in the geosciences. The President has requested $625.5 million for EHR, a 1.1 percent increase over FY 1997. AGI urges the subcommittee to raise this amount as part of an overall increase for NSF.

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 the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated May 5, 1997

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