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AIBS Submits Testimony to House in Support of Increased FY 2009 Funding for the NSF

March 26, 2008

Submitted by:

Holly Menninger, Ph.D.
Senior Public Affairs Associate
and

Robert Gropp, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 Eye Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC, 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500
Fax: 202-628-1509
www.aibs.org

Submitted to:
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC


The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) encourages the Committee to provide the National Science Foundation (NSF) with $7.326 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2009, the funding level authorized by the America COMPETES Act.

AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and nearly 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission through participating in coalition activities in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education Web site ActionBioscience.org; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

The FY 2008 omnibus appropriations provided only a 2.5 percent increase over FY 2007 funding for the NSF. This appropriation disappointed many in the science community who had hoped for the 10 or 11 percent increase pledged by Congress through House and Senate Appropriations Committee marks, respectively.

Although the President’s FY 2009 budget request recognizes the need to increase funding for the NSF, the request would only provide a modest two-year adjustment for NSF programs such as the Biological Sciences directorate (BIO). Thus, we encourage the Committee to work to provide NSF funding at the level authorized in the America COMPETES Act (PL 110-69), which, with the Committee’s prior guidance to the Administration to support all NSF research directorates, would enable a modest increase for BIO and the Social, Behavioral and Economics directorate (SBE).

Invigorating our innovation enterprise, improving science education, strengthening research infrastructure, and addressing energy, security, and environmental problems are bipartisan national priorities. NSF is the primary federal agency that funds fundamental research through competitively awarded, peer-reviewed, extramural grant programs. These research grants drive discovery and have enabled the United States to remain a global economic and scientific leader. Moreover, NSF-sponsored biological sciences research is transformative and leads to the development of sustainable and cost-effective solutions for society’s greatest challenges, including energy independence, climate change, and security.

NSF’s BIO directorate is vital to our nation’s continued leadership in the biological sciences, the fields of science dedicated to understanding how organisms and ecological systems function. Research disciplines heavily dependent upon the directorate include botany, ecology, microbiology, zoology, basic molecular and cellular biology, and systematics and taxonomy. Equally important, NSF provides essential support for our nation’s biological research infrastructure, such as field stations and natural science collections (e.g. university-based natural history museums), and education and training programs for undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students.

According to government data, BIO provides 67 percent of federal grant support for fundamental biological research conducted at our nation’s universities and other nonprofit research centers. Transformative research in the biological sciences has advanced our understanding of complex living systems and is leading the way forward in addressing major challenges - protecting the environment, conserving biodiversity, and developing new bio-inspired technology. In fact, during a hearing before this Subcommittee on 27 February 2008, NSF Director Arden Bement referred to this century as “the bio century” and went on to explain that bioscience is “where the fundamental work is being done.” Indeed, biological research from molecules and cells to ecosystems is the backbone supporting major cross-foundation initiatives, including Adaptive Systems Technology and Dynamics of Water Processes in the Environment (WATER). To continue to support activities across the Foundation, it is critical that BIO receives appropriate funding to advance its core research programs.

The President’s FY 2009 budget request would provide $5.594 billion to support disciplinary research programs within the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account. This funding level would provide an average 16.0 percent increase over FY 2008 estimated appropriations for the R&RA account; however, within R&RA, proposed budget increases are spread unevenly among the directorates. For example, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate would increase $235.36 million (20.2 percent) and the Engineering directorate would increase $122.46 million (19.2 percent) over their respective FY 08 estimated appropriations while BIO is slated for just a $63.04 million increase (10.3 percent). This pattern would be understandable and acceptable if it were a one-year anomaly. However, this pattern of funding has become the norm - leaving some directorates, such as BIO, SBE and Geosciences behind.

In contrast, COMPETES authorizes $5.742 million for R&RA in FY 2009, and would provide an average 19.1 percent increase over FY 2008 appropriations. Moreover, COMPETES-authorized funding levels would provide NSF with the necessary funding to provide BIO with a 19 percent increase, placing it more on-par with the trajectory of other directorates.

Administration officials point to the importance of aligning the budget with priorities articulated in both the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act. Yet, language in COMPETES (Public Law No: 110-69, Sec. 7018(b)) calls for parity in funding among scientific disciplines by specifying, “The Director shall give priority in the selection of awards and the allocation of Foundation resources to proposed research activities, and grants funded under the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account, that can be expected to make contributions in physical or natural science, technology, engineering, social sciences, or mathematics, or that enhance competitiveness, innovation, or safety and security in the United States.”

Indeed, research in the biological sciences has directly contributed to the development of new technologies and has advanced our understanding of life in critical areas, including genomics, emerging diseases, ecosystem services, global change, nanotechnology, and complex systems. Such research has led to important discoveries with implications for American competitiveness and public health and safety. For example, scientists at Arizona State University funded through BIO used a special laser to analyze the split-second process within photosynthesis where plants harness light energy; their research may have important implications for the development of solar energy technologies. It is imperative that we understand how biological systems - whether a microbe or an ecosystem - function so that we can address current issues like global change and can innovate solutions to additional challenges that will likely emerge in the future.

We sincerely thank the committee for recognizing the importance of balanced investments in last year’s Report (H. Rept. 110-240):

“The Committee strongly supports increases for the math and physical sciences, computer sciences, and engineering directorates in fiscal year 2008 for research and related activities (R&RA). However, the Committee also believes the Foundation should maintain comparable growth in fiscal year 2008 for the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral and economic sciences directorates. As the Innovation Agenda moves forward, it is important to note that maintaining U.S. competitiveness will depend on advances in, and the interactions among, all fields of science. The Committee expects NSF to ensure that the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorates receive increases in fiscal year 2008 that are comparable to the other directorates.”

Members of the biological sciences community are concerned that inadequate funding is being provided to fundamental biological and environmental sciences. Biological research is central to our ability to understand and respond to the emerging threats and uncertainties associated with global environmental change.

For twelve years, the research grant funding rate for BIO has been consistently lower than the NSF-wide funding rate. In 2008, the research grant funding rate was only 15 percent compared with an agency-wide rate of 21 percent. Unfortunately, this trend occurs at a time when BIO is contributing the largest percentage of federal dollars to basic biological sciences research and the number and scope of problems requiring biological information continues to increase.

Key Areas

Increased funding for NSF at the level authorized by the America COMPETES Act would enable more robust investment in the five core programs supported by BIO: Molecular and Cellular Biosciences; Integrative Organismal Systems; Environmental Biology; Biological Infrastructure; and Emerging Frontiers.

The FY 2009 budget request includes important funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the first national ecological measurement and observation system designed to answer regional- to continental-scale scientific questions. NEON is an innovative facility that is designed to transform the way science and education are conducted by enabling integration of data from natural- to human-dominated systems and from genomes to the biosphere. A total of $26 million has been requested for NEON in the FY 2009 BIO budget. Roughly $16 million would be funded from Emerging Frontiers and $10 million from Biological Infrastructure.

BIO provides essential support for the development and maintenance of other important research infrastructure (e.g., natural science collections and field stations) that is necessary to advance our understanding of biological systems.

Indeed, there is a growing national awareness of the need to reinvest in the physical and personnel resources associated with our nation’s scientific collections. Evidence for this may be found in the annual Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum to federal agencies on research and development priorities, which has charged federal agencies to evaluate the needs of the collections they host or support. A federal interagency working group on scientific collections has also been established. As part of this effort, NSF is surveying non-federal research collections to gain a better understanding of the nature of our nation’s holdings.

Unfortunately, the FY 2009 budget request for the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) is $86.99 million, only 0.1 percent more than DBI’s FY 2008 appropriation ($86.94 million). The biological sciences community is increasingly concerned that decreasing investment in the tools of science, namely the facilities, collections, and instruments that enable discovery, will have profound and negative impacts on the science.

Research support is only one of NSF’s important missions. NSF is a vital component of our nation’s formal and informal science education system. Whether through programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeships, or other fellowships for graduate and post-doctoral researchers, NSF provides the resources required to recruit, educate and train our next generation of scientists. We encourage Congress to continue to support these vital science education programs.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request and for your prior support of the National Science Foundation. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact either of us at 202-628-1500.

To download a copy of the PDF version of the testimony, click here.

To learn more about the Federal Budget, check out the AIBS Budget Source: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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