Support Sought for the National Science Foundation

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Publication date: 
23 March 2001

Wednesday, the House Budget Committee sent an FY 2002 spending plan to the House that provided the same total amount of funding requested by President Bush for NSF, DOE's general science programs, and NASA's science programs (following an unsuccessful effort by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) to add more money.) Unless the Bush Administration changes its position in the next few weeks, it will request only a 1% increase in the budget for the National Science Foundation for FY 2002. An effort is now underway by Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, to double the NSF budget by FY 2005. An effort is also underway in the House by Rep. David Wu (D-OR) to urge President Bush to request a 15% increase in FY 2002 for NSF. Success in accomplishing these objectives will depend, to a significant degree, on the support shown by constituents.

Last year, Bond and Mikulski and 41 Republican and Democratic senators sent a letter to the Senate leadership advocating a doubling of the NSF budget. A new letter is to be sent to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). Bond and Mikulski are actively seeking co-signers for this letter.

Rep.Wu has asked his colleagues to sign a letter that will be sent to President Bush. This letter asks the President to increase the NSF request to 15% in the budget request to be submitted in mid-April. Ninety-five representatives (all Democrats) have signed this letter, but more signatories are sought.

This approach is called a "Dear Colleague," and is employed hundreds of times on Capitol Hill every month. The success of such an effort often depends upon the number of constituents which request that their Members of Congress sign the letter. Federal spending is likely to be much more constrained this year, so the demonstration of on-the-record support by senators and representatives will be important.

The U.S. Capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121. The Bond-Mikulski letter to the Senate leadership and the Wu letter to President Bush follow:


"Dear Majority Leader Lott and Democratic Leader Daschle:

"We are writing as longtime supporters of investments in fundamental research and education -- the building blocks of the new economy. Just as we have worked collectively to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget over five years, we believe that we must continue a parallel effort to double the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) over five years. It is our strong belief that the success of NIH's efforts to cure deadly diseases such as cancer depends heavily on the underpinning research supported by NSF.

"The NSF supports fundamental research that contributes to the nation's health and well-being. In the fiscal year 2001 appropriation, the Congress provided this crucial agency with the largest budget increase in its history, which put the agency on the path of doubling its budget in five years. As the Council on Competitiveness has noted: 'For the past 50 years, most, if not all, of the technological advances have been directly or indirectly linked to improvements in fundamental understanding.' Business Week adds: 'What's needed is a serious stimulant to basic research, which has been lagging in recent years. Without continued gains in education and training and new innovations and scientific findings the raw materials of growth in the New Economy -- the technological dynamic will stall.'

"NSF's impact over the past half century has been monumental - - especially in the field of medical technologies and research. The investments have also spawned not only new products, but also entire industries, such as biotechnology, Internet providers, E-commerce, and geographic information systems. Medical technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, digital mammography and genomic mapping could not have occurred, and cannot now improve to the next level of proficiency, without underlying knowledge from NSF- supported work in biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences. In 1993, NSF support made it possible to detect the cause of a deadly hantavirus outbreak in the American Southwest. NSF-supported research on plants led to the discovery of Taxol, a derivative of Yew trees that is effective against certain cancers. The benefits of NSF research to medical science and technology has been recognized by leading doctors such as the former heads of the NIH, Harold Varmus and Bernadette Healy, and the President of the Institute of Medicine, Kenneth Shine.

"New NSF support for research in nanotechnology, high-speed computing, plant genome research, biocomplexity, and cognitive neuroscience will further advance the state of technological change and improve our quality of life through creation of new products, a better understanding of how humans behave, and how our ecological systems can survive. Furthermore, every generation requires a group of skilled and innovative scientists and engineers to make the new discoveries that propel society into the future. NSF's educational programs from pre-kindergarten to graduate school train the next generation of inventors and discoverers For industry, this is the best type of technology transfer.

"Lastly, NSF programs have become important resources for broadening the participation of under-represented groups such as minorities and women in the fields of science, math, and engineering. Further, NSF programs such as the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and the Innovation Partnerships program have become critical resources for strengthening the research and development infrastructure of many rural and small states.

"Senators may disagree about the precise mix of fiscal and monetary policies that will ensure a continuation of America's current economic prosperity. But there is a growing consensus that investing in fundamental scientific research is one of the best things we can do to keep our nation economically strong. This fact has been recognized by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, NASDAQ President Alfred Berkeley, the Committee for Economic Development, and many other widely respected experts.

"For all these reasons, we hope you will join us in continuing a five-year goal of doubling the budget of National Science Foundation by fiscal year 2005."


"Dear Mr. President:

"As you prepare your final budget request for Fiscal Year 2002, we urge you to give high priority to increasing the National Science Foundation's (NSF) funding by at least 15 percent. We were disappointed that your budget outline to Congress included only a 1 percent increase for the NSF.

"America's current shortage of students in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering is two-fold. While the country's weaknesses in these fields are at the primary and secondary school levels, America continues to lose a great opportunity to improve the skills of many college undergraduates without the sufficient background to undertake science, mathematics or engineering majors.

"It is clear that NSF provides the basic knowledge that leads to the innovation that rejuvenates our economy. Furthermore, university research trains new generations of scientists and engineers. Mr. President, it is important to realize that if funding shortages occur, schools will be required to limit their admissions to graduate programs.

"Due to a lack of funding, NSF currently funds less than a third of its applicants and about half of its quality applicants. Though an applicant may receive a NSF award, it is usually financially sub-optimal. The current situation leaves researchers in NSF funded fields scrambling for funds and spending too much of their time chasing limited funding rather than in the laboratory or mentoring students.

"Again, we request that you give high priority to increasing the NSF's funding by at least 15 percent in your upcoming budget. Funding NSF contributes to the development in the high tech sector. Growth and development in the high-tech sector benefits the economy and continued economic growth benefits all Americans."

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