FYI Number 119: September 16, 2003

Senate Appropriations Report Language on NSF

Accompanying the recently drafted Senate FY 2004 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill is a report spelling out the details of the committee's recommendations regarding the National Science Foundation. Selections from Senate Report 108-143 are below; the full report may be accessed at http://thomas.loc.gov/ See FYI #114 for a summary of funding differences between the Senate and House versions of this legislation.

FUNDING CONSTRAINTS:

"The Committee continues to be supportive of the efforts achieved in the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-368) and the pursuit of a doubling path for NSF funding. However, due to funding constraints, the Committee is not able to provide such funding at this time, but will continue to pursue these efforts in the future."

RESEARCH AND RELATED ACTIVITIES:

"The Committee supports fully the Foundation's efforts to push the boundaries of science and technology issues, especially in the areas of information technology, biotechnology, and the administration's focus on nanotechnology. The Committee also applauds the Foundation's efforts to address the problem of science and mathematics education among K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students. However, in order for the Foundation to reach successfully its research and education goals, it must reach out to individuals and schools that have not participated fully in NSF's programs. Accordingly, the Committee remains concerned about programs designed to assist minorities, women, and schools that have not received significant Federal support."

"The Committee recommends $275,000,000 for the multi-agency nanotechnology initiative. The Committee believes that the recommended level of funding will allow the Foundation to continue to be the largest Federal agency for this initiative in a field that is still in its beginning stages. This represents an increase of $25,000,000 above the requested level. Of these additional funds for nanotechnology, the following increases should be added to NSF activities already in the request made by the administration: $5,000,000 within CISE [Computer and Information Science and Engineering]; $10,000,000 within Engineering; and $10,000,000 within Math and Physical Sciences.

"There are continued concerns about the Foundation taking on another major interagency initiative when its administrative resources have remained relatively flat. With these concerns in mind, NSF is encouraged to provide the proper resources within NSF to facilitate this Federal leadership role in nanotechnology. The Committee also expects the Foundation to continue working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy in carefully crafting a detailed, rational long-term strategy with performance outcome measurements for the nanotechnology initiative.

"The Committee recognizes the significant infrastructure needs of our Nation's research institutions, especially for smaller research and minority institutions that have not traditionally benefitted from Federal programs. The Committee is especially concerned about the larger schools receiving a disproportionate share of scarce Federal resources from indirect cost reimbursements to fund infrastructure needs. As a result, the Committee recommends $115,000,000 for the Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation [MRI] account to address the infrastructure needs of research institutions. NSF is encouraged to continue targeting these funds in assisting those research institutions which tend to be underrepresented. To ensure that minority serving institutions are also a focus of MRI funding, within the amount provided for MRI, $30,000,000 should be used to provide instruction in digital and wireless network technologies, and enhance the Nation's digital and wireless infrastructure at these institutions." "The Committee is concerned that NSF has not proposed to maintain adequately its existing astronomy facilities. Support for enhanced operations, maintenance, and development of new instrumentation at the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array in New Mexico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia continues to be a priority for the Committee. These astronomy facilities need to be supported in their operations, and new instrumentation and upgrades must be provided to keep them as world class facilities. The Committee provides the National Radio Astronomy Observatories [NRAO] $55,310,000 for annual operations. Also within the increase provided for NRAO, the Committee approves $9,400,000 specifically to continue the Expanded Very Large Array program, and $10,300,000 for the Green Bank Observatory. The Committee is also aware that the rail upon which the Green Bank telescope turns is showing premature wear and will require either retrofitting or replacement. For the purpose of engineering studies and cost for repair or replacement, in addition the Committee is providing $4,600,000 in funding out of the funds provided in the Math and Physical Sciences activity."

"The Committee noted in the fiscal year 2002 bill that it was troubled by the recent findings by the National Academy of Public Administration [NAPA] on the Foundation's peer review system. In its February 2001 report, 'A Study of the National Science Foundation's Criteria for Project Selection,' NAPA found that NSF is unable to assess the criteria to encourage a broader range of institutions or greater participation of under-represented minority researchers. In other words, while NSF claims to be making efforts to assist smaller research institutions and minorities, in practice, this does not occur. NAPA recommended that NSF should institute broader-based review panels by bringing in participants from a wider range of institutions, disciplines, and under-represented minorities. The Committee does not believe NSF has made adequate progress in this matter and directs NSF to institute immediately changes to its peer review process that reflect these recommendations."

MAJOR RESEARCH EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES CONSTRUCTION:

"The Committee has provided $51,040,000 for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array [ALMA], $43,730,000 for EarthScope, and $35,460,000 for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. The Committee has also provided $10,060,000 for Terascale Computing, $8,090,000 to continue the construction of the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation [NEES], and $1,300,000 for funding of the current South Pole Station modernization efforts. Due to budgetary constraints, no funding is provided for new starts within this account for fiscal year 2004.

"Further, the Committee is awaiting the results of the National Academy of Sciences work on developing a set of criteria that can be used to rank and prioritize the Foundation's large research facilities. The Committee anticipates that the Academy's work will lead to a priority-setting process that is fair and rational. While the Foundation has made some strides in addressing the Committee's concerns that the current process appears subjective and ad hoc, the Committee believes that questions about the process still remain.

"The Committee also recognizes the continuing weaknesses in the Foundation's management and oversight of its large research facilities. The Committee is encouraged by the recent hiring of a permanent senior management level official in charge of overseeing NSF's large research facilities and looks forward to working with the new deputy director, the National Science Board, and the NSF Office of Inspector General in addressing the Foundation's management issues.

"In addition to funding large research facilities under the major research equipment and facilities construction [MREFC] account, the Foundation supports smaller projects through its research and related activities [R&RA] account. The Committee directs the Foundation, in consultation with the National Science Board, to develop clear and definitive criteria that define projects under both the MREFC and R&RA accounts. Further, the Committee directs the Foundation to identify all equipment, infrastructure-related, and facilities with an estimated cost of over $5,000,000 in its fiscal year 2005 budget submission to the Congress. Lastly, the Committee directs the Deputy Director of Large Facility Projects to develop immediately internal guidelines and a central tracking system of all research projects, regardless of cost, to ensure adequate oversight."

EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES:

'The Committee is deeply disappointed by the administration's lack of support in its budget request for assisting smaller research institutions and minorities. The Committee is particularly troubled by the continued lack of support provided to the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR]. The Committee has provided $100,000,000 to EPSCoR, an increase of $10,590,000 over last year's enacted level and $25,000,000 over the budget request. The Committee believes that high-speed network connections and advanced technology resources provided by the Research Infrastructure Improvement program, are crucial to the success of underrepresented (most notably, rural areas) areas and institutions and encourages NSF to ensure that EPSCoR states are able to fully participate in research partnerships. The Committee directs NSF to submit a report by May 1, 2004 on the status of all the States participating in EPSCoR. There is an expectation that States will graduate from EPSCoR and instead States have apparently begun to view the program as an 'entitlement.' NSF is expected to assess what changes should be made to the program to ensure States begin to graduate."

"The Committee recognizes and is supportive of the request by the administration for the Foundation's graduate research education programs. The request will allow the Foundation to raise the annual stipend amount from its current level of $27,500 to $30,000 per award. The Committee believes that the increased stipend will improve the Foundation's ability to attract the best and brightest students into the science, mathematics, engineering, and technology fields. It is also expected that through the additional funds provided to the Research and Related Activities account, NSF will also be able to provide the same level of stipends for the existing Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education program, the Graduate Research Fellowships program, and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. The Committee also urges NSF to work towards increasing the number of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups within these programs to the greatest extent possible."

Note that there was extensive report language in this section regarding individual programs such as Tech Talent, HBCU-IP, Informal Science, and Math-Science Partnerships; please consult the Senate committee report on the web site noted above.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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