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AIBS Testimony for NSF FY 2015 House Appropriations

March 31, 2014

Outside Witness Testimony in Support of FY 2015 Funding for the National Science Foundation

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

Submitted to:
House 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) 2015 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide NSF with at least $7.5 billion in FY 2015.

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 more than 140 member organizations and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a Public Policy Office in Washington, DC.

NSF and Innovation

The NSF is an important engine that helps power our nation's economic growth. Through its competitive, peer-reviewed research grants, NSF supports 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 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 budget request for FY 2015 will flat line investments in foundational research at a time when other nations are accelerating their commitments to science. The proposed $1.5 million cut from the Research and Related Activities account may seem small, but coupled with an anticipated 1.7 percent increase in inflation, NSF research funding would decline by $100 million next year.

The scientific community recognizes that current fiscal conditions have necessarily constrained federal funding, but 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.

Biological Sciences Directorate

The NSF is the primary federal funding source for basic biological research at our nation's universities and colleges. The NSF provides approximately 66% of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

A reduction of $12.8 million is proposed in FY 2015 from the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). This is a considerably larger cut than is proposed for any other research directorate. If enacted, the funding rate for biological and environmental research would drop to 18 percent.

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

  • Discovering that members of a particular kind of bacteria work together to find food and survive under harsh conditions. This discovery could lead to new antibiotics or development of new pest-resistant seeds.
  • Developing a new technique to manipulate the genes of grasshoppers in order to prevent them from transforming into crop-destroying locusts.
  • Studying the impacts of the death of lodgepole pine forests due to bark beetle infestations on the timing of snowmelt and water quality.
  • Working to identify the pathway that leads to cells forming into an individual body, information that could lead to improved cancer treatments.

BIO funds research in the foundational disciplines within biology. In addition to supporting our understanding of how organisms and ecosystems function, BIO supports interdisciplinary research at the frontiers of science.

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 resolution of environmental problems.

The FY 2015 budget request would sustain an effort to digitize high priority specimens in U.S. natural science collections. This investment is helping to drive new fields of inquiry and helping scientists and the public gain access to rare and irreplaceable biological specimens and associated data. These efforts are stimulating the development of new computer hardware and software, digitization technologies, and database management tools.

The Dimensions of Biodiversity program 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 biological diversity (species) is unknown. This lack of knowledge is particularly troubling given the rapid and permanent loss of global biodiversity. A better understanding of life on Earth will help us to make new bio-based discoveries in the realms of food, fiber, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and bio-inspired innovation. It will also increase our understanding of life on Earth and how biological systems and functions respond to environmental changes.

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account is funding the 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

NSF plays a 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.

NSF's education initiatives support STEM education innovation from elementary school through post-graduate. The Graduate Research Fellowship program is an important part of our national effort to recruit and retain the best and brightest STEM students. NSF proposes to increase both the number of new fellowships as well as the fellowship stipend in FY 2015. The Faculty Early Career Development program (CAREER) supports young faculty who are dedicated to integrating research with teaching and learning.

The administration once again proposes major changes to STEM education programs. Although the plans have been scaled back since the FY 2014 budget request, we are concerned that implementation of these changes will proceed before the full details are known. Given the considerable consequences for student education and training, we hope that Congress will provide careful consideration of the potential impacts to our nation's pipeline of researchers and STEM-skilled workers.

Conclusion

Continued investments in the biological sciences are critical. Sustained support 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 $7.5 billion for NSF for FY 2015.

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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