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Bullet policy, statements · Mar 13, 2020

AIBS Testimony in Support of FY 2021 Funding for NSF

Submitted to:

House Committee on Appropriations

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies


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) 2021 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide NSF with at least $9 billion in FY 2021. Additionally, we request that Congress consider economic options that can help scientific societies and organizations withstand the economic losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The budgets of a significant number of scientific societies and other research organizations are heavily dependent upon revenue from scientific conferences, workshops, and meetings that have been cancelled as part of the response to the novel coronavirus.

AIBS is a scientific association dedicated to promoting informed decision-making that advances biological research and education for the benefit of science and society. AIBS works to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to information that can guide informed decision-making.

Biological research is in our national interest. Increasing our knowledge of how genes, cells, tissues, organisms, and ecosystems function is vitally important to efforts to improve the human condition. Food security, medicine and public health, national security, economic growth, and sound environmental management are informed by the biological sciences. The knowledge gained from NSF-funded research contributes to the development of new research tools and industries.

Biological research strengthens our economy. Research funding from NSF powers the expansion of the bioeconomy and has given rise to successful companies, such as Genentech, Allylix, Ekso Bionics, and Chromatin, as well as new industries that provide more robust food crops or disease detection tools and techniques. The translation of biological knowledge into formal and informal education programs foster the development of the scientifically and technically skilled workforce needed by employers. Data show that employers continue to seek workers with scientific and technical skills. Since 1960, growth in U.S. employment in science and engineering has outpaced growth in total employment, increasing at an average rate of four percent per year.

The cornerstone of NSF excellence is a competitive, merit-based review system that underpins the highest standards of excellence. Through its research programs, NSF invests in the development of new knowledge and tools that solve the most challenging problems facing society.

  • Combating emerging diseases: Long before Zika virus made headlines in the United States, the NSF was supporting research to study the environmental and social factors that put people at risk from diseases carried by mosquitos, to understand the physiology and life cycles of disease vectors, to model the spread of mosquito-borne disease, and to understand the evolution of insecticide resistance. Knowledge gained from this work enabled public health officials to respond quickly when an outbreak of Zika virus started in the U.S. in late 2015.
  • Mobilizing big data: Access to and analysis of vast amounts of data are driving innovation. NSF enables integration of big data across scientific disciplines, including applications in the biological sciences. Digitization of biodiversity or natural science collections involves multi-disciplinary teams, which have put more than 120 million specimens and their associated data online for use by researchers, educators, and the public.
  • Enabling synthetic biology: DNA editing has become more advanced and targeted with techniques such as CRISPR-CAS9 allowing scientists to rewrite genetic code and redesign biological systems. NSF funds research on how these techniques can be used to bio-manufacture new materials, treat diseases, and accelerate growth of the bioeconomy.

Other examples of research that have benefited the public are chronicled in a recent AIBS report, “Biological Innovation: Benefits of Federal Investments in Biology,” which is available at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/biological_innovation_report.html.

The Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at NSF directly supports the Administration’s priorities in the bioeconomy industries of the future. NSF BIO investments in genomics, in cellular, organismal and developmental biology, and in bioinformatics spur further development of capabilities in synthetic biology and biotechnology. Investments in research that supports the bioeconomy would sustain U.S. economic growth and innovation across multiple sectors including agriculture, biomanufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and other bioproducts.

Scientific collections are an important component of our nation’s research infrastructure and were identified by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget as significant to our nation’s bioeconomy in this year’s S&T funding priorities memorandum to federal agencies. In 2019, the Biodiversity Collections Network released their report, Extending U.S. Biodiversity Collections to Promote Research and Education, outlining a national agenda that leverages digital data in biodiversity collections for new uses and calling for building an Extended Specimen Network. The report notes, “Science and industry rely on physical specimens housed in U.S. biodiversity collections. Rapid advances in data generation and analysis have transformed understanding of biodiversity collections from singular physical specimens, to dynamic suites of interconnected resources enriched through study over time. The concept of the ‘extended specimen’ conveys the current perspective of the biodiversity specimen as extending beyond the singular physical object, to potentially limitless additional physical preparations and digital resources.” This endeavor requires robust investments in our nation’s scientific collections, whether they are owned by a federal or state agency or are part of an educational institution or free-standing natural history museum or other research center. While most federal agencies have a role to play in supporting the development of the Extended Specimen Network, the NSF’s leadership through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program has positioned NSF to play a central role in the development of the Extended Specimen Network.

The NSF supports recruitment and training of our next generation of scientists. Support for undergraduate and graduate students is critically important to our research enterprise. Students learn science by doing science, and NSF programs engage students in the research process.

NSF awards reached 1,800 colleges, universities, and other public and private institutions across the country in FY 2019. Initiatives such as the Graduate Research Fellowship and the Faculty Early Career Development program are important parts of our national effort to attract and retain the next generation of researchers. Since 1952, the number of students supported by NSF Graduate Research Fellowships has grown to 60,000. Support for Graduate Research Fellowships would be cut by 3.3 percent compared to FY 2019 under the President’s proposal, while the budget for Faculty early career development or the CAREER program would be slashed by 30.2 percent. Other programs, such as the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology, which provides opportunities to train biologists in high priority areas like integrative research investigating the rules of life governing interactions between genomes, environment and phenotypes and research using biological collections, are also facing budget cuts.

The NSF is an important supporter of biological research infrastructure, such as field stations, natural history museums, and living stock collections. These place-based research centers enable studies that take place over long periods of time and variable spatial scales.

Federal R&D investments in the U.S. are shrinking as a share of the national economy, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product. The U.S. is still the largest performer of R&D globally, but its share of worldwide R&D has declined considerably since 2000. Whereas countries in East and Southeast Asia, especially China, have been rapidly increasing their investments in science. In fact, according to the National Science Board, China may have surpassed the U.S in R&D spending at some point in 2019. To remain at the global forefront of innovation and to fully realize the benefits of NSF-supported research, the government must make new and sustained investments in NSF. Unpredictable swings in funding 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 biological research at our nation’s universities and colleges, providing 67 percent of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

The President’s budget request for FY 2021 proposes a 6.5 percent cut to NSF, including a 7.8 percent reduction of its research activities. If enacted, this budget will hurt research and undermine the nation’s ability to address national challenges. Congress provided NSF with $8.278 billion in funding for FY 2020, an increase of 2.5 percent. This increase allows for critical federal investments in scientific and educational research as well as support for the development of the scientific workforce. We encourage Congress to continue supporting increased investments in our nation’s scientific capacity.

Funding the NSF at $9 billion in FY 2021 is a step toward addressing stagnant funding issues that slow scientific discovery. The requested funding will grow and sustain the U.S. bioeconomy and enable NSF to accelerate its 10 Big Ideas. These are important new cutting-edge initiatives at the frontiers of science and engineering. These include research programs such as Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL), Navigating the New Arctic (NNA), Growing Convergence Research (GCR), and Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st-Century Science and Engineering (HDR).

Lastly, we urge Congress to consider economic measures that can help scientific societies and other research organizations deal with financial losses resulting from event cancellations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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