Trent Lott Supports Doubling of NSF Budget When the Senate returns to work in two weeks, one of the major items on its agenda will be consideration of the FY 2001 VA, HUD, Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill. This bill, passed by the House before the summer recess, funds the National Science Foundation and NASA. The Senate VA, HUD appropriations subcommittee, chaired by Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), has not even attempted to draft a comparable bill because it had so little money to work with.
Bond and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are on a mission to double the NSF budget, and should find an easier money situation when they return to Washington next month. In late July, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Republican Senators Spencer Abraham (MI), James Inhofe (OK) and Robert Bennett (UT) sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Ranking Minority Member Robert Byrd (D-WV). Stevens and Byrd will be instrumental in determining how much money the VA, HUD subcommittee will have in the writing of its bill.
In this letter, Lott and his colleagues cite the decline in funding for physics, among other disciplines. The letter also describes the importance of nanotechnology research. It concludes: "Senators Bond and Mikulski have just announced their intention to double NSF in five years. This is a laudable goal and we urge your support for NSF funding at levels sufficient to achieve this goal."
The letter follows:
"Dear Senators Stevens and Byrd:
"As members of the Senate High-Technology Task Force, we are writing to highlight the importance of federal investments in research and development and to stress the need for adequate funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"Our leading edge, high-technology constituents - both large and small companies - consistently remind us that leadership in science and technology is a vital foundation element in their economic success. These companies agree with us that federal investment in research is central to our future. Yet at a time when the need for federally funded fundamental research has increased, in fact it has been declining in many disciplines critical for continued advancement, namely physics, math, materials, chemistry and engineering research. This is creating shortfalls in both the critical knowledge and the skilled personnel necessary to continue new products and services.
"As you know, the federal government is the primary source of funds for university-based fundamental research in these areas. Industry generally recognizes that it has a major R&D responsibility and privately funded R&D is now at an all-time high. Unfortunately, because of marketplace pressures, most of this research is short-term and focused on immediate business objectives.
"Programs at the NSF address many of the longer-term research needs of the high-tech community. For example, the Information Technology Research Initiative at NSF will fund research in several critical areas: software, which is of paramount importance; building information infrastructure to accommodate increasing size, capability and complexity; extremely fast computing systems (such as the terascale computing project); and information storage and retrieval. There are significant needs. For example, there is currently insufficient understanding of how to design and test complex software systems with millions of lines of code in the same way that we can verify whether a bridge or an airplane is safe. Yet these software and high-end computing systems lie at the core of worldwide financial systems, air traffic management, defense command and control, virtually all parts of our economy. This research will create the human resources and new understandings to enable growth of the Internet to continue apace.
"Nanotechnology is another very important NSF program. Nanotechnology refers to the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the scale of human cells or create materials and structures from the bottom up, building in desired properties. Nanotechnology is at an exploratory state. The Nanotechnology Initiative at NSF will fund over 600 projects and 2500 faculty and students, fund 10 large engineering research and materials research centers and 5 university-based research hubs. These efforts will, among other things, help create the knowledge required to address the fast approaching physical limits to semiconductor performance.
"Another key benefit of NSF funding is that it fulfills the federal government's unique role in preparing students. The short-term outcome of investment in university research is that students are better prepared to compete for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow. Highly skilled employees are desperately needed throughout the American economy, especially in high tech. These funds support more professors, advanced instruction for top students, and better equipped laboratories. The long-term outcome of this investment is an increasing pool of knowledge from which new technologies can be derived.
"Senators Bond and Mikulski have just announced their intention to double NSF in five years. This is a laudable goal and we urge your support for NSF funding at levels sufficient to achieve this goal.
"Thank you for your consideration of our views."
Richard M. Jones