FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

APS Executive Officer Testifies Before Appropriators

Richard M. Jones
Number 41 - April 6, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Judy Franz, the Executive Officer of the American Physical Society, testified before the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee on April 2. The subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over National Science Foundation funding, convened to receive public testimony. Franz, and the presidents or executive officers of the American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, testified in support of the Obama Administration’s proposed $7 billion budget for the National Science Foundation for FY 2010.

In her remarks, Franz spoke of a concern that House appropriators have also raised: the “boom and bust” cycles that the physical and biological sciences have experienced. Franz testified that a repeat of this problem would affect disproportionately students and young faculty members. She recommended

“that the Committee consider appropriating an aggregate of $150 to $200 million in FY 2010 and FY 2011 for ‘one-shots’ in the form of one-year start-up funds for new, young, non-tenured science faculty members.”

After outlining other concerns, Franz told the subcommittee:

“many worthy young investigators coming through the academic pipeline may be unable to gain employment in their fields. If this is the case, they will either leave science entirely or look for employment in other countries. Five years from now the academic science pipeline could be remarkably damaged. Providing universities with start-up funding for young researchers could help alleviate this, while also helping decrease the FY2012 shortfall. Without sustained funding for NSF to support researchers at universities across the nation, the academic pipeline of young investigators and the future of the scientific enterprise will suffer.”

The full text of this testimony follows:

“Chairman Mollohan, Ranking Member Wolf and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I, too, wish to add my appreciation, on behalf of the American Physical Society and its members, for the much-needed science funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA] of 2009 and the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Despite these significant increases, I would like to identify two related issues that should be taken into account: the out-year shortage created by the use of $2 billion in the ARRA for new grants, and the impact of state budget strictures and steeply declining university endowments on new faculty hires.

“According to information provided by the Administration, ARRA funding must be obligated this year with outlays not extending beyond FY 2011. However, NSF Director Dr. Arden Bement has said that all grants issued with ARRA funds will be standard grants with durations of up to 5 years. In this case, even if the NSF budget continues to grow at the rate recommended by President Obama, covering those stimulus-funded grants will cause a budget shortfall in FY 2012. The exact size of the shortfall will depend on the funding schedule for new grants, but we expect it to be several hundred million dollars.

“It is important that we avoid the ‘boom and bust’ cycle for science funding that has been seen in the past; one in which science funds rise abruptly and then fall short of needs several years later. This kind of funding pattern has well documented consequences, as evidenced in the physical sciences during the 1970’s and the biomedical sciences most recently. Such disruptions in the academic community tend to fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable: students and young faculty members. To alleviate the out-year shortage, I recommend that the Committee consider appropriating an aggregate of $150 to $200 million in FY 2010 and FY 2011 for ‘one-shots’ in the form of one-year start-up funds for new, young, non-tenured science faculty members.

“Young faculty members may be facing a ‘perfect storm’ as three separate threats caused by the bad economy merge. First, senior faculty members will retire more slowly, and thus fewer new positions will become available. Second, some universities are instituting hiring freezes, also decreasing new positions. Third, for young experimental scientists to be successful and do great science, they must purchase needed equipment for their new labs. Universities usually provide start-up funds for this, amounting to about $500,000 per new hire. But many universities can’t make such commitments today, due to declining endowments and, in the case of public universities, sharp reductions in state support. Thus they are even less able to hire young faculty members.

“As a result of these factors, many worthy young investigators coming through the academic pipeline may be unable to gain employment in their fields. If this is the case, they will either leave science entirely or look for employment in other countries. Five years from now the academic science pipeline could be remarkably damaged. Providing universities with start-up funding for young researchers could help alleviate this, while also helping decrease the FY2012 shortfall. Without sustained funding for NSF to support researchers at universities across the nation, the academic pipeline of young investigators and the future of the scientific enterprise will suffer.”

The Obama Administration has recognized the need to encourage students and young faculty members. In the FY 2010 budget overview it released in February, under the brief description on the NSF, the Administration stated: “Supports Researchers at the Beginning of Their Careers. Ensuring America’s economic competitiveness requires that we develop the future scientific and technical workforce for our universities, national labs, and companies” (more).

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