April 16, 2007
Robert Gropp, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 Eye Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC, 20005
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agenciess
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) encourages Congress to appropriate at least the President's fiscal year (FY) 2008 request of $6.43 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Providing at least $20 million more than the request would enable NSF to increase funding for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) by roughly 7 percent, an increase over the requested 4.1 percent and just below the agency-wide average increase for the various research directorates.
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 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.
Invigorating our nation's innovation enterprise, improving science education, and addressing energy, security, and environmental problems are bipartisan national priorities. NSF is the primary federal research agency with the capacity to support the breadth of scientific research programs that have the potential to drive discovery to meet these priorities. Moreover, NSF-sponsored biological and environmental sciences research will contribute to the development of sustainable and cost-effective solutions for these challenges.
NSF's BIO 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, 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 NSF data, BIO provides 68 percent of federal grant support for fundamental biological research conducted at our nation's universities and other nonprofit research centers.
The Administration's FY 2008 budget request would provide $5.131 billion to support disciplinary research programs within the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account. This funding level would provide an average 7.7 percent increase for the various programs within the R&RA account, and a 4.1 percent increase for the biological sciences.
Members of the biological sciences community appreciate the proposed increase. However, there is growing concern that BIO funding is not keeping pace with the need and demand for biological sciences research. When adjusted for inflation, the requested FY 2008 budget for BIO places the program only slightly above the 2001 funding level and near the 2003 funding level. Scientists dependent upon BIO grants for research support are feeling the pressure. Over the past four years, the research grant funding rate for BIO has been lower than the NSF-wide funding rate. Yet the number and scope of problems requiring biological information continues to increase. In 2006, the research grant funding rate was only 14 percent compared with an agency-wide rate of 21 percent.
Under the requested budget, BIO would receive $633 million in FY 2008 to support its six core programs. These programs and their proposed funding levels are: Molecular and Cellular Biosciences $116.37 million; Integrative Organismal Systems $105.49 million; Environmental Biology $114.66 million; Biological Infrastructure $96.1 million; Emerging Frontiers (a cross-discipline, "virtual" directorate) $99.16 million; and Plant Genome Research $101.2 million.
The FY 2008 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 $24 million has been requested for NEON in FY 2008. Roughly $16 million would be funded from BIO and $8 million would be funded from the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account.
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.
The informal science education programs supported by the Education and Human Resources Directorate could benefit from increased funding. Economic growth demands a scientifically aware and technically skilled workforce--one in which employees have the scientific awareness adequate to generate the next great idea. Moreover, we live at a time when the citizenry is increasingly called upon to make informed decisions. Informal science education programs, whether through a natural history museum, science center or other venue, reach large audiences and provide a valuable mechanism for reaching the general public.
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 me at 202-628-1500.