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AIBS Writes House Science Committee About NSF Funding

May 23, 2003

Dear Chairman Boehlert, Representative Smith, and members of the House Science Committee:

As President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, I would like to express appreciation for the Committee's diligent efforts to provide sufficient funding for basic scientific research, and thank the Committee for its efforts to double the National Science Foundation's budget. We agree with the premise, expressed by Rep. Smith at the May 9 hearing on H.R. 4664, that basic research leads to productivity and contributes to the economic health of our country.

We would like to point out that the basic biological research funded by the NSF also contributes to the ecological health of our country, which is essential for proper management of our natural resources and which also has direct implications for human health and national security. The majority of non-medical life science research in fields such as systematics, plant biology, and environmental research is funded by the NSF. Long-term ecological research, which is critical to maintaining ecological health and scientifically sound management of natural resources, is almost entirely dependent on the NSF, which funds more than 90% of the competitively funded research in the field.

Because the non-biomedical fields of biology depend so heavily on NSF, the recent rapid and massive growth in funding for the "life sciences" that resulted from the doubling of the NIH budget has not resulted in an increase of biological research that investigates the natural world. For comparison, the request for NSF's Biological Sciences (BIO) directorate is less than 2% of the total funding for research at NIH. Thus the physical sciences versus life sciences comparison is an oversimplification. The branches of biology funded by NSF are also suffering from a lack of funding. Last year, the BIO directorate was only able to fund 19% of the proposals it received. This is about one-third less than the overall NSF acceptance rate of 30% which the committee has expressed concern about.

We agree with White House Science Advisor Dr. John Marburger that funding for scientific research should not be allocated so as to correct any perceived imbalances, but rather that funding should be directed towards areas that are ripe for growth. In our opinion, the NSF is the best entity to make these types of allocation decisions. Therefore, we hope that the Committee will consider changes to the bill language that do not imply that the Congress expects NSF to allocate funding among the directorates disproportionately to correct any perceived imbalances between the physical and "life" sciences.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please contact me or AIBS Public Policy Director Dr. Adrienne Froelich at (202) 628-1500 x232 or


Gene E. Likens, Ph.D.

Cc: House and Senate VA-HUD Appropriations Committees
Senate VA-HUD Committee
Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee

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