March 21, 2013

Outside Witness Testimony in Support of FY 2014 Funding for the National Science Foundation

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

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500
Fax: 202-628-1509

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) 2014 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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.

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.

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.

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 basic research that advances the frontiers of our knowledge about biodiversity, genetics, physiology, and ecosystems. Recent discoveries that stem from NSF-funded research include:

  • Development of a robotic fish that mimics live fish behavior. The robot could be used in the future to lead schools of real fish away from dangers such as turbines or oil spills.
  • Identification of the mechanisms that keep natural structures, like plant leaves and butterfly wings, clean. This information could be used to prevent fouling of man-made structures.
  • Calculation of the impact of bark beetle infestations on a forest's ability to store carbon dioxide. This new method can also be used to assess other economic impacts of forest loss.
  • Discovery of the key proteins and enzymes in an insect's outer shell, and identification of which ones break down easily. These insights could be used to create more effective pest control strategies.

Biological Sciences Directorate

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.

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.

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 2014 budget should also sustain an effort to digitize high priority specimens in U.S. natural science 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 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 biodiversity remains 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.

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. The Faculty Early Career Development program (CAREER) supports young faculty who are dedicated to integrating research with teaching and learning.


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.

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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