Senators Seek Support for Doubling NSF Budget Two powerful and influential senators are seeking the help of fellow senators to double the budget of the National Science Foundation over the next five years. Constituent support for this endeavor will be central to its success.
The two most important members of the Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee - Chairman Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Missouri) and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) are seeking signatures from other senators on a letter that will be sent to Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota). This letter states: "Just as we have worked collectively to double the National Institutes of Health budget over five years, we believe it is now time to launch a parallel effort to double the budget of the National Science Foundation over five years."
Bond and Mikulski are longtime friends of NSF, and have the "will" to double the NSF appropriation to $8 billion by 2006. What they lack is the "way" - enough money for their subcommittee so that they can provide the roughly 15% annual increase for NSF in each of the next five years. As Bond declared in May, "we do not have an allocation that will allow us to do what we must do." Mikulski said "I just wish our wallet could match our warmth." Their subcommittee's allocation is so low there is no scheduled mark up date for the appropriations bill.
The Clinton Administration is seeking a 17.3% increase for NSF this year, a number backed by the National Science Board. Yet the House provided an increase of 4.3%. As Bond's House counterpart, James Walsh (R-New York) lamented, "There was no way, given the available resources that we had, to meet that [administration] request." Bond and Mikulski are trying to avoid the same bind that tied Walsh's hands. To do so, they are going to need more money, and to do that, there is going to have to be strong political support on the Senate floor for NSF. That political support will come about because of active constituent interest.
That is where the "Dear Colleague" letter comes into play. By getting enough signatures on this letter, Bond and Mikulski will demonstrate to the Senate leadership, and will commit their colleagues to, strong support for NSF. Doubling federal science and technology budgets is a familiar objective for senators. Last year, the Senate passed S. 296, a bill to double federal basic research funding over 11 years. This bill was sponsored by Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and cosponsored by 41 senators. This authorization bill has not moved in the House because of the opposition of House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin).
The Senate VA, HUD appropriations bill will have to move, and when it does, the objective of NSF supporters will be to get a high number for a strong bargaining position in the all- important House-Senate conference committee. It is hoped that by then more money will be available. But there will be countless demands on the conferees to increase other programs funded by the bill.
Senators receive countless "Dear Colleague" letters every week. The best way to ensure that such a letter is noticed, and acted upon, is through active constituent support. The text of the July 12 Bond-Mikulski letter to the Senate leadership on doubling the budget of the NSF follows. The telephone number of the U.S. Senate is 202-224-3121.
"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."
Richard M. Jones