FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Senate Committee Discusses Investments in Research and Development

Aline D. McNaull
Number 46 - April 2, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The March 6 hearing “Keeping America Competitive Through Investments in R&D” of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Science and Space provided an opportunity for budget and program discussions between senators and witnesses John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); and Mason Peck, Chief Technologist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The hearing focused on the current state of federal research and development in the context of President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request and included an overview of the workforce needs to improve US science, technology, and engineering capabilities.  Public-private partnerships as well as the development of technologies for commercial purposes were also subjects discussed at the hearing.

Gallagher, Peck, and Suresh offered a summary of the FY 2013 budget request for their respective agencies while Holdren spoke to the broad goals of OSTP initiatives.  Holdren stated:

“The 2013 Budget recognizes today’s difficult economic circumstances and makes tough choices, limiting spending in many areas that in other times would be deemed worthy of greater support. But the Budget also focuses on and shows confidence in the future. By building and fueling America’s engines of discovery, it will expand the frontiers of human knowledge, promote sustainable economic growth based in part on a revitalized American manufacturing sector, cultivate an American clean-energy future, improve health-care outcomes for more people at lower cost, address the challenge of global climate change, manage competing demands on environmental resources, and reinforce our national security.”

The questions following the testimony demonstrated the subcommittee’s support for basic research. 

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) described the goals of the COMPETES Act as: increased research and development investments; strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and the development of US research infrastructure.  Rockefeller asked Suresh about the involvement of NSF in cybersecurity research.  Suresh responded by providing the subcommittee with details about the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program and the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.   Holdren added details about the networking and information research and development program under the National Science and Technology Council and referred Rockefeller to the strategic plan for the federal cybersecurity research and development program which was released in December of 2011. 

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) inquired as to why there was a 25 percent cut in NASA’s education program in this era of improving STEM education.  Holdren responded that there had been an inventory done of the over 200 STEM education programs in the federal government and that NASA was able to look for opportunities for consolidation and improved efficiency of their programs.  He emphasized that NASA continues to support education programs and that these cuts do not reflect on NASA’s interest in exciting young people in STEM fields.  Holdren added that there are programs within NASA which contribute to science education, such as the Space Technology Program, which fall under other areas of the budget. 

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) spurred a discussion about interdisciplinary research as he asked about current research trends.  Suresh responded that a solid foundation in basic research is necessary for interdisciplinary research and described basic research programs at NSF in addition to the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability NSF-wide investment. 

Nelson later asked questions regarding the Innovation Corps at NSF.  Suresh emphasized that the Innovation Corps is based on research and went into detail about how the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) offers training in entrepreneurship as well as mentorship programs to smaller undergraduate institutions that would not otherwise have access to these resources.  He also emphasized that public-private partnerships are critical to this program at NSF. 

FYIs on the budget requests for OSTP, NIST, NSF, and NASA can be read on the AIP website

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics