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AIBS Submits Testimony to the Senate in Support of the NSF FY 2013 Budget

March 19, 2012

Outside Witness Testimony in Support of FY 2013 Funding
for the National Science Foundation

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr
Senior Public Policy Associate
and
Robert Gropp, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy

Submitted to:
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony in support of fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide NSF with at least $7.373 billion in FY 2013.

The AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. AIBS works to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to and use information that will guide them in making informed decisions about matters that require biological knowledge. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, AIBS has nearly 160 member organizations and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a Public Policy Office in Washington, DC.

The NSF is an important engine that helps power our nation's economic growth. Through its competitive, peer-reviewed research grants, NSF is leading the development of new knowledge that will help to solve the most challenging problems facing society, and will lead to new scientific discoveries, patents, and jobs. The agency's education and training programs are helping to ensure that the next generation has the scientific, technical, and mathematical skills employers are seeking. Investments in research equipment and facilities enable the country to continue to innovate and compete globally. These efforts, however, require a sustained and predictable federal investment. Unpredictable swings in federal funding can disrupt research programs, create uncertainty in the research community, and stall the development of the next great idea.

The NSF is the primary federal funding source for fundamental research in the non-medical life sciences at our nation's universities and colleges. The NSF provides approximately 62% of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

NSF is a sound investment that pays dividends. The use of peer-review to evaluate and select the best proposals means that NSF is funding the highest quality research. Importantly, the FY 2013 budget request would allow the agency to fund 300 additional research grants, thereby supporting roughly 5,000 additional researchers, teachers, and students.

The research supported by NSF is unique from the science funded by other federal agencies. Unlike most federal agencies, which focus on applied research, NSF supports basic research that advances the frontiers of our knowledge about biodiversity, genetics, physiology, and ecosystems. Recent discoveries that stem from NSF-funded research include:

  • Creation of designer enzymes that can convert biomass into biofuels faster, more efficiently, and less expensively.
  • Refined understanding of the mechanism by which the flu virus infects humans. This insight could help to develop more effective treatments for the flu and save lives.
  • Identification of long-term environmental changes in U.S. ecosystems, such as changes in hydrology and nutrient inputs in lakes in the Midwest.
  • Knowledge of the physiological effects of human-caused marine stressors, such as pollution and low oxygen, on crustaceans' ability to fend off bacterial infections. This research has ramifications for several economically important fisheries.
  • Insight into the benefits of anti-microbial plant resins used in beehives on honeybee health. This discovery could have implications for colony collapse disorder, which has devastated bee populations in North America.

Biological Sciences Directorate

The Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) funds research in the foundational disciplines within biology. 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, such as the NSF-wide Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability program. In collaboration with NSF's engineering, math, and physical science directorates, BIO is working to develop new, cutting-edge research fields. For example, the BioMaPS program is accelerating understanding of biological systems, and applying that knowledge to new technologies in clean energy.

The FY 2013 budget request for NSF would enable the agency to continue to fund highly competitive grant proposals in BIO's five core programmatic areas: Environmental Biology, Integrative Organismal Systems, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Biological Infrastructure, and Emerging Frontiers. Each of BIO's program areas also contribute to the education and training of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students.

Equally important, BIO provides essential support for our nation's place-based biological research, such as field stations and natural science collections. The Long-Term Ecological Research program supports fundamental ecological research over long time periods and large spatial scales, the results of which provide information necessary for the identification and solution of environmental problems.

The budget request also would sustain an effort to digitize high priority specimens in U.S. scientific collections. This investment will help the scientific community ensure access to and appropriate curation of irreplaceable biological specimens and associated data, and stimulate the development of new computer hardware and software, digitization technologies, and database management tools.

The FY 2013 budget would continue efforts to better understand biodiversity. Funding is included for the Dimensions of Biodiversity program, which supports cross-disciplinary research to describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth. Despite centuries of discovery, most of our planet's biodiversity remains unknown. This lack of knowledge is particularly troubling given the rapid and permanent loss of global biodiversity. Better understanding of life on Earth will help us to protect valuable ecosystem services and make new bio-based discoveries in the realms of food, fiber, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and bio-inspired innovation.

The budget request includes funding in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account for the continued construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Once completed, NEON will provide the infrastructure necessary to collect data across the United States on the effects of climate change, land use change, water use, and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. This information will be valuable to scientists, resource managers, and government decision makers as they seek to better understand and manage natural systems.

STEM Education

The requested budget would allow NSF to build upon its central role in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Support for the scientific training of undergraduate and graduate students is critically important to our research enterprise. Students recruited into science through NSF programs and research experiences are our next generation of innovators and educators. In short, NSF grants are essential to the nation's goal of sustaining our global leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and reigniting our economic engines.

We encourage the Committee to provide the requested funding for the successful Graduate Research Fellowship program. The budget request would provide funding for 2,000 new fellowships, which are important to our national effort to recruit and retain the best and brightest STEM students. The budget would also provide a needed $2,000 increase to the fellowship's stipend, which has not changed since 2004.

The agency budget request also would provide important research support to early career scientists, helping them to initiate their research programs. The Faculty Early Career Development program (CAREER) supports young faculty who are dedicated to integrating research with teaching and learning. The FY 2013 budget would enable NSF to support approximately 40 more CAREER awards than in FY 2012.

Conclusion

Continued investments in the biological sciences are critical. The budget request for NSF will help spur economic growth and innovation and continue to build scientific capacity at a time when our nation is at risk of being outpaced by our global competitors. Please support an investment of at least $7.373 billion for NSF for FY 2013.

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

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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