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AGI Fiscal Year 2009 Testimony to the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Testimony Submitted by
Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
in support of Fiscal Year 2009 Appropriations for the
National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations
March 28, 2008

To the Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

The American Geological Institute (AGI) supports fundamental Earth science research sustained by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Frontier research on Earth, energy and the environment has fueled economic growth, mitigated losses and sustained our quality of life. The Subcommittee’s leadership in expanding the federal investment in basic research is even more critical as our nation competes with rapidly developing countries, such as China and India, for energy, mineral, air and water resources. Our nation needs skilled geoscientists to help explore, assess and develop Earth’s resources in a strategic, sustainable and environmentally-sound manner and to help understand, evaluate and reduce our risks to hazards. AGI supports a total budget of $7.32 billion for NSF (as authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007 – Public Law 110-69); $542 million for Scientific and Technical Research and Services at NIST (as authorized in America COMPETES Act); $4.5 billion for NOAA (an increase of $400 million over the request to maintain core programs and infrastructure), and $4.869 billion for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA (an increase of about $428 million over the request to maintain core research and missions).

The President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act of 2007 supports a doubling of physical science research at NSF and NIST, while noting the importance of robust research and science education programs at NASA and NOAA. AGI strongly supports both initiatives and the inclusion of Earth science in such efforts.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 44 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.

NSF: We applaud the President’s request for a 13 percent increase for an overall budget of $6.854 billion for NSF and the Administration’s commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative. We hope that the Subcommittee can strengthen our research and science education initiatives by funding NSF at an overall budget of $7.32 billion which is consistent with the amount authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007. NSF remains under funded and would benefit from an increase of about $466 million over the request in FY 2009. The additional funding would be distributed throughout NSF, but primarily to cover major facilities construction and planning, major facilities operation and maintenance and rising costs for facilities, instrumentation and labor. AGI believes that such a forward-looking investment in tight fiscal times will pay important dividends in future development and innovation that drives economic growth, especially in critical areas of sustainable and economic natural resources and reduced risks from natural hazards.

NSF Geosciences Directorate The Geosciences Directorate is the principal source of federal support for academic Earth scientists and their students who are seeking to understand the processes that ultimately sustain and transform life on this planet. The President’s budget proposal requests an increase of about 13 percent (about $96 million) for a total budget of about $849 million, which AGI strongly supports.

The President’s request for FY 2009 asks for $260.58 million for Atmospheric Sciences, $177.73 million for Earth Sciences, $353.5 million for Ocean Sciences and $56.82 million for Innovative and Collaborative Education and Research (ICER) within the Geosciences Directorate. Much of the geosciences research budget is for understanding that is critical for current national needs, such as climate change, water and mineral resources, energy resources, environmental issues and mitigation of natural hazards. AGI asks the Subcommittee to strongly support these essential investments and requests that these investments be used for research.

A significant concern for NSF and GEO is the rising costs of materials, infrastructure, and operations and maintenance. Costs for drilling, ships, instrumentation and raw materials are sky-rocketing as the supply and demand for these has increased in the public and private sector. Unexpected shortages, increasing competition and growing demand is significantly increasing the cost of basic research in GEO. This is one reason for NSF's decision to defer the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) which would receive no funding from the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account, but would instead receive about $7.5 million from the GEO Research and Related Activities account for planning.

Infrastructure and operation and maintenance costs for facilities are coming directly from the research budget within GEO. Among the major facilities, the Academic Research Fleet would receive $87.96 million, EarthScope Operation would receive $26.29 million, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) would receive $12.2 million, Ocean Drilling Activities would receive $47.4 million, Ocean Observatories would receive $10.5 million and the National Center for Atmospheric Research would receive $95.42 million. These facilities are essential for not only basic research but also for addressing critical issues facing the nation, such as climate change, energy and mineral resources, water resources and hazards mitigation. Funding for these facilities, many of which have been operating for decades, must remain robust and require an infusion of funds approaching $300 million. Therefore AGI strongly supports the congressionally mandated budget of $7.32 billion for NSF in FY 2009 and asks that a significant fraction of the $466 million increase relative to the President’s request be used to support facilities, whose operating funds are coming from the research budget of GEO.

We would encourage the general increase for GEO to focus on funding research, which means providing essential support to the faculty, staff, post-doctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students at universities and other educational/research institutions across the nation. The outstanding facilities being maintained by GEO require investments in outstanding human capital through competitive research grants. Now is the time to boost Earth science research and education to fill the draining pipeline of skilled geoscientists and geo-engineers working in the energy industry; the construction industry, particularly on levees and dams; the environmental industry; the academic community, particularly on understanding natural hazards and the sustainability of our natural resources; the primary federal Earth science agencies, such as the United States Geological Survey; and in all areas of education.

NSF Support for Earth Science Education Congress 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. AGI supports the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, a competitive peer-reviewed grant program that funds only the highest quality proposals at NSF. The NSF’s MSP program focuses on modeling, testing and identification of high-quality math and science activities whereas the Department of Education MSP program does not. The NSF and Department of Education MSP programs are complementary 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.

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, including energy, minerals, water and environmental stewardship.
  • 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. For example, lives were saved in the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami by a 12 year old girl who understood the warning signs of an approaching tsunami and warned others to seek higher ground after completing an Earth science class.
  • Geoscience provides the foundation for tomorrow’s leaders in research, education, utilization and policy making for Earth’s resources and our nation’s strategic, economic, sustainable and environmentally-sound natural resources development.

NOAA: AGI appreciates the President’s request for increased funding for NOAA for a total budget of $4.1 billion. Unfortunately, NOAA's funding has remained flat, at $3.9 billion since FY 2005 and based on an annual inflation rate of 3 percent a budget of $4.4 billion in FY 2009 would leave the agency’s budget level in constant dollars. NOAA cannot support its core mission services including weather and severe storm forecasting, spill response, ocean observing, habitat restoration and conservation, and research on climate change, fisheries, and coastal and marine ecosystems without a more robust budget. We ask that the Subcommittee provide small increases (about 10 percent increases to their total budgets) rather than proposed cuts to the National Ocean Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Office of Atmospheric Research following the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. AGI also supports the additional increased funding for the National Weather Service for analysis, modeling and upgrading of observing systems and additional increases for the National Environment Satellite, Data and Information Service for the development of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) and the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). Both satellite systems will maintain a global view of the planet to continuously watch for atmospheric triggers of severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hailstorms, and hurricanes.

NIST: We applaud the President’s request for a 22 percent increase in research and related funding for NIST in fiscal 2009. Basic research at NIST is conducted by Earth scientists and geotechnical engineers and used by Earth scientists, geotechnical engineers and many others on a daily basis. The research conducted and the information gained is essential for understanding climate change and natural hazards in order to build resilient communities and stimulate economic growth with reduced impact from risk. In particular, we strongly support increases for Measurements and Standards for the Climate Change Science Program ($5 million), Disaster Resilient Structures and Communities ($4 million) and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) ($3.3 million). The climate change research will improve the accuracy of climate change measurements, may reduce satellite costs and may help to guide climate change policy. The hazards research will help to reduce the estimated average of $52 billion in annual losses caused by floods, fires and earthquakes. NIST is the lead agency for NEHRP, but has received only a small portion of authorized and essential funding in the past. AGI strongly supports a doubling of the NIST budget over 5 to 7 years as authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007, so that core research functions at NIST are maintained, while needed funding for climate change and hazards are protected.

NASA: AGI supports the vital Earth observing programs within NASA. Currently the topography of Mars has been measured at a more comprehensive and higher resolution than Earth’s surface. While AGI is excited about space exploration and the President’s Vision for Exploration, we firmly believe that NASA’s Earth observing program is effective and essential to solving global to regional puzzles about Earth systems, such as how much and at what rate is the climate changing. AGI strongly supports the requested increase for Earth Science and Planetary Science programs within the Science Mission Directorate.

The Science Mission Directorate, which includes Earth Science, Planetary Science, Astrophysics and Heliophysics, would receive $4.441 billion in the FY 2009 proposal, a decline of 6 percent or $265 million compared to FY 2008 enacted levels. The President’s FY 2009 budget request would provide $1.3675 billion for NASA’s Earth Science program, a 6.8 percent increase over the FY 2008 appropriation to continue with current missions and begin development of new missions. AGI is very grateful to see an increase for Earth science. Unfortunately, about $570 million of the increase created for the decadal survey missions is funded through the transfer of funding from other science divisions, resulting in reductions in the Mars Exploration Program, a delay to the Solar Probe mission and other programmatic cuts. Future budget planning would provide an increase of $910 million  over five years to initiate only the first two Earth science missions and start planning on three additional missions recommended in the National Academies Earth science decadal survey. In addition this funding outlook does not come close to meeting the $500 million annual increase recommended by the National Academies decadal survey report to bring the program back to its fiscal year 2000 funding level and enable the decadal recommendations.
AGI asks for a budget of $4.869 billion for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA or an increase of about $428 million over the President’s request.  The increase would eliminate the $265 million deficit compared to FY 2008 enacted budget for the Science Mission Directorate in the President’s proposal and would include an additional $163 million for the Earth Science program (for a total of $1.530 billion in FY 2009). This would bring the Earth Science program up to an increase of $250 million about half of what is needed to meet the priorities of the decadal survey, but enough to keep key missions on track under tight fiscal constraints. We strongly urge the Subcommittee to return spending levels for Earth science within NASA to FY2000 levels (eliminating a 30 percent cut over the past 6 years) and implement the priorities of the National Academies Earth Science and Applications from Space Decadal Survey.

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. 228 (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: March 27, 2008


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