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AIBS Testimony to House of Representatives: Increased FY 2011 Funding for NSF

April 14, 2010

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr, Senior Public Policy Associate
and
Richard O'Grady, Ph.D., Executive Director
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500
Fax: 202-628-1509

Submitted to:
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
United States House of Representatives

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony in support of increased fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide at least the $7.424 billion requested by the President.

AIBS is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) 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. Today, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and a staff of approximately 50, AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of individual biologists and nearly 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission through coalition activities in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education website ActionBioscience.org; providing scientific peer-review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

Encouraging economic growth, improving science education, rebuilding our nation's scientific infrastructure, and solving the most challenging problems facing society requires a sustained federal commitment. New investments in NSF must be a central element of this federal commitment.

NSF provides funding for fundamental research through competitively awarded, peer-reviewed, extramural grants to researchers at our nation's universities and research centers. Approximately 68% of extramural federal grant support for fundamental biological research is provided by NSF. These research grants employ scientists and support the personnel required to build and maintain research equipment. These funds also help early career scientists establish research programs, and pay undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research while pursuing their education. In short, NSF grants are essential to the nation's goal of sustaining our global leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and reigniting our economic engines.

NSF's Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) funds research in the foundational disciplines within the biological sciences. These fields of study further our understanding of how organisms and ecosystems function. Additionally, BIO supports innovative interdisciplinary research that improves our understanding of how human social systems influence -- or are influenced by -- the environment. BIO is working with physical science, computer science, and engineering programs to develop innovative new research programs that press forward the frontiers of all disciplines while simultaneously informing our understanding of current global-scale problems. 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 postdoctoral students.

The President's budget would enable NSF to continue to fund highly competitive grant proposals in the BIO directorate's five core programmatic areas: Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Integrative Organismal Systems, Environmental Biology, Biological Infrastructure, and Emerging Frontiers. These funds are required to prevent another build-up of unfunded but highly rated and competitive grants - a problem partially addressed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Additionally, funding would be provided for research infrastructure. Our nation's natural science collections, long-term ecological research sites, and field stations are centrally important components of our research infrastructure. Indeed, the importance of scientific collections was recognized by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections, convened by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which reported: "...scientific collections are essential to supporting agency missions and are thus vital to supporting the global research enterprise."

Importantly, the budget includes a request for $10 million to support the digitization of highpriority U.S. specimen collections. This proposed funding is an important investment. We strongly encourage Congress to provide at least this level of funding for digitization of highpriority U.S. specimen collections. We also request that the Committee encourage the President to increase this important investment in the coming years. This funding will help the scientific community ensure access to and appropriate curation of irreplaceable biological specimens and associated data, and will stimulate the development of innovative new computer systems, digitization technologies, and database management tools. A sustained investment in this programmatic area will advance science and cultivate new technologies and economic markets.

The FY 2011 budget also includes funding in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The requested $20 million is required to initiate construction of NEON. The NEON program has been designed to contribute to our understanding of continental-scale ecology through the use of integrated observations and experiments.

The President's budget would increase the number of Graduate Research Fellowships. The budget would provide for a 16.4 percent increase over the FY 2010 level by providing $6.87 million in new funding. These fellowships are important to our national effort to recruit and retain the best and brightest students in the STEM fields. Many fields of scientific study require prolonged hours in the field, library, or laboratory. Moreover, many experiments lack the flexibility to be conducted around shifts at a part-time job. In short, funding for these fellowships makes it possible for STEM graduate students to pursue science. We encourage the Committee to provide the requested funding for the Graduate Research Fellowship program.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request and for your prior efforts on behalf of science and the National Science Foundation.

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