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FYI Number 69: June 10, 2002

From the House Floor: Debate on NSF Bill

Excerpts from last week's three hour debate on H.R. 4664, the Investing in America's Future Act, that would authorize an eventual doubling of the National Science Foundation budget (abbreviations have been substituted whenever possible):

"The long-time president of MIT, physicist Karl Taylor Compton, once said, 'Modern science has developed to give mankind a way of securing a more abundant life.' Through this important investment in science, technology and research, this Congress can help ensure for the American people and communities across our Nation a more abundant life." - Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY)

"This reauthorization bill was unanimously referred to the House by the Committee on Science. The funding level called for in this legislation is above the President's request, and it addresses the growing imbalance between Federal support of biomedical research and physical sciences research. It also helps to ensure that America's present and future scientists and engineers are globally competitive." - Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA)

"Basic research is that research which is done to understand the basic underpinnings of science, the basic underpinnings of the nature of our universe and how it operates. It is very broadly based. It is not specifically directed toward any particular problem in society and sometimes not even toward a problem in the sciences. It is an effort to really learn more about the universe and how it and all its composite parts work. That makes it very difficult to defend in the political process. . . ." - Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)

". . . I serve as a member of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education of the Committee on Appropriations. A number of years ago, we set off on this path to double the funding for the NIH. We are in our last year of that doubling effort. It was very important to the health of the American people. So, too, is the doubling of the NSF. Not only do we have to do this, but we should do more." - Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

"The scale of NSF's budget today is simply not commensurate with the breadth and importance of its mission. Congress reached that same conclusion about the NIH, and we have followed through by doubling that research agency's budget. But health research is not the only kind of research on which our Nation depends. And, indeed, even health research itself depends on advances outside of biomedicine, the kinds of advances that produce new research tools and new understandings of chemistry and physics." - Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)

"Unfortunately, the simple truth is that during the 1990s we under invested in the fields that NSF supports. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences provides specific examples that make this case. The report shows that between 1993 and 1999 Federal research support at academic institutions fell by 14 percent in mathematics, by 7 percent in physics, by 2 percent in chemistry, and by 12 percent in electrical engineering. Inadequate funding for basic research in such important fields imposes a price on society, because new ideas are lost that would otherwise underpin future technological advances. Of even more importance, anemic funding of academic science and engineering research reduces the numbers of new young scientists and engineers who constitute the essential element necessary to ensure the Nation's future economic strength and security. . . We were not alone in calling for substantial funding increases. Such prominent figures as Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, former House Speaker Gingrich, and former presidential science advisor Allan Bromley have pointed out the importance of increasing support for basic research in science and engineering." - Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN)

"Mr. Chairman, 5 years ago we made a historic pledge to double the budget of the NIH. It took a lot of hard work to get the initial commitment, and even more to see it through. Despite a war on terrorism and an economic downturn, Congress and the administration kept its word and fulfilled that promise. The NIH is funding twice the work it did a mere 5 years ago. That is a tremendous accomplishment. In the 21st century, revolutions in our understanding of biology will rival those of physics in the 20th, and work sponsored by the NIH must continue to be a priority. However, their initiatives cannot and must not be pursued exclusively. Science has become intricately interconnected; discoveries in one [field] drive innovations in others. Without adequate research into the underlying fields of physics and chemistry, advancements in biology and medicine will stall. If we expect the myriad achievements of recent years to continue, we must support the underpinning science and engineering more robustly. As such, I believe we need a more balanced portfolio and need to champion the traditional areas of research, as well as the exciting new projects that have generated so many headlines of late." - Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD)

" A lot of the projects that we fund at the beginning . . . [are] hard to defend. But ultimately the reason that we live in the world we live in today is because brave legislatures in the past and brave business people in the past have been willing to invest in projects that may not have made a lot of sense at the time. I think we have to have the courage to stand up and say research is a very important responsibility to the Federal Government. We get a huge rate of return on the money that we invest in research, and we will determine today what kind of a world our children will live in." - Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN)

"Yet despite the importance of basic research to the future economic health and well-being of our country, NSF now must decline more than 1 billion dollar's worth of high quality research proposals each year. Why? Because NSF's budget is insufficient to meet the demands of our Nation's vibrant research sector. Mr. Chairman, while it is true that everyone must learn to live within their budget, and NSF has, it is a shame that top-notch proposals go unfunded for lack of resources." - Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

"It is also important to recognize the return on investment to this Federal investment. Economists will argue about whether the return on investment in research and development is 20 percent, 40 percent, or 60 percent. Whatever it is, it is extraordinarily high. This is one of the best things that we as a Congress can do who have been entrusted with the worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer money." - Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)

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

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