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FYI Number 72: June 8, 2001

Key Senate Appropriators Want to Increase NSF Budget

"We want to double the NSF budget over the next five years" Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) told NSF Director Rita Colwell at last Wednesday's appropriations subcommittee hearing on the FY 2002 budget request. Mikulski, as the new chairman of the Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, and Ranking Minority Member Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) clearly want to increase the foundation's budget over the 1.3% requested by the Bush Administration. Putting the NSF budget on a doubling track would require an increase of about 15% or $600 million in the new year, and later in the hearing Mikulski admitted that it would be "very hard" to attain this goal.

"This is the first time in the NSF's 50-year history that an Administration has requested Congress to cut NSF's research budget below the previous year's level," Mikulski explained in her opening statement, calling herself "disappointed" in the request. "I cannot believe this Administration really thinks this R&D budget is the right one for the country," she added. Bond characterized the request as "inadequate," and said that he had expressed his views to Mitch Daniels, Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

While Mikulski and Bond may have traded chairs on the subcommittee on Wednesday, they share a common concern about the importance of R&D. Both get along well, and demonstrate true bipartisan cooperation on the programs under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, including their well-publicized effort to double the NSF budget. The senators lauded NSF's role in areas such as nanotechnology, plant genome research, education, and information technology. Bond explained that in talking with physicians in his state of Missouri, and former NIH Director Harold Varmus, he had been told, "For NIH to do its job, NSF must be funded."

Mikulski and Bond pressed Colwell on several issues. Mikulski, saying "Let's stick to the basics," wanted to know, for instance, what education program funding would be cut to finance the Partnership for Math and Science Education. "What is the value-added by this new partnership program and does it outweigh the cuts being proposed in other NSF K-12 math and science education programs?" she asked. Expressing concern that there is "little change," in math and science education, Mikulski told Colwell that there seemed to be many "starts and stops" in NSF education programs. Bond, renewing his call from a previous hearing, asked Colwell, "what's your vision for what the foundation can achieve in the long term?" Colwell described advances in high speed computing, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and environmental research. Bond expressed agreement, but also said, "I want to see some milestones."

Other concerns raised during this hearing included, by Bond, reform in the peer review system, augmenting the supply of high technology workers, support for nuclear engineering, and the NSF support of less research intensive universities. Mikulski asked Colwell, without success, how much the foundation had requested from OMB in its original submission. "What do you really need?" Mikulski wanted to know. Colwell was very circumspect in her answer, as she had been at the previous House appropriations hearing. National Science Board Chairman Eamon Kelly, also appearing as a witness, was not so constrained, telling Mikulski that the doubling goal was appropriate. To which Colwell added, "doubling remains important to us."

During her many years on the subcommittee, Mikulski has frequently stated that their ability to increase the NSF budget, and other budgets under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, depends on how much money the subcommittee receives as its 302(b) allocation. That will be more important than ever this year. There is definitely a "will," but it remains to be seen if there is a "way" to increase significantly the National Science Foundation's budget for the coming fiscal year.

  Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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