March 11, 2011

Outside Witness Testimony in Support of FY 2012 Funding for the National Science Foundation

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr
Senior Public Policy Associate
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) 2012 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide the $7.767 billion requested by the Administration.

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. AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 200 professional societies and scientific organizations whose combined individual membership 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; providing scientific peer-review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

NSF is a vital engine for our nation's continued economic growth. The agency's support for scientific research and education programs fosters innovation, improves science education, and maintains our scientific infrastructure. 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. The agency's education and training programs are preparing the next generation of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). NSF's investments in research equipment and facilities will enable our nation 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.

NSF is a sound investment that pays dividends. The use of peer-review to evaluate and select the best research proposals means that NSF is funding the most promising research. Recent discoveries that stem from NSF-funded research include the development of a faster and less expensive method for identifying bacteria in water and food samples; the identification of a high yielding biofuel that can grow on degraded lands; the creation of tomatoes that provide increased levels of the essential nutrient folate; and insight into the spread of the West Nile virus.

As the primary federal funding agency for fundamental research in the non-medical sciences at our nation's universities and colleges, NSF is responsible for generating new scientific discoveries, patents, and jobs. For many scientific disciplines, NSF is the primary funding source for basic research. For instance, NSF provides approximately 68% of extramural federal grant support for fundamental research in the areas of non-medical and environmental biology.

Importantly, the FY 2012 budget request would allow NSF to fund nearly 2,000 additional research grants, thereby supporting more than 6,000 additional researchers and students. This added support would build upon the agency's central role in science and STEM education. In FY 2010, NSF programs reached almost 300,000 scientists, teachers, and students across the nation. NSF provides vitally important research support to early career scientists, helping them to initiate their research programs. Support for the scientific training of undergraduate and graduate students is also 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.

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 2012 budget request for NSF would enable the agency to continue to fund highly competitive grant proposals in BIO's five core programmatic areas: Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Integrative Organismal Systems, Environmental Biology, Biological Infrastructure, and Emerging Frontiers. Equally important, BIO provides essential support for our nation's place-based biological research, such as field stations and natural science collections. Each of BIO's program areas also contribute to the education and training of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students.

The budget includes a request for $10 million to support the digitization of high priority U.S. specimen collections. We strongly encourage Congress to provide at least this level of funding. This investment would help the scientific community ensure access to and appropriate curation of irreplaceable biological specimens and associated data, and would stimulate the development of new computer hardware and software, digitization technologies, and database management tools. For example, this effort is bringing together biologists, computer and information scientists, and engineers in multi-disciplinary teams to develop innovative imaging, robotics, and data storage and retrieval methods. These tools will expedite the digitization of collections and, more than likely, contribute to the development of new products or services of value to other industries.

The FY 2012 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 collect data across the United States on the effects of climate change, land use change, 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 resources.

We encourage the Committee to provide the requested funding for the successful Graduate Research Fellowship program. The budget request would provide 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 $1,500 increase to the fellowship's education allowance, which has not changed since 1998.

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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