March 31, 2016

Outside Witness Testimony in Support of FY 2017 Funding for the National Science Foundation

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr
Public Policy Manager
Robert Gropp, Ph.D.
Interim Co-Executive Director

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1201 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 420
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500

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) 2017 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide NSF with at least $8.0 billion in FY 2017.

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 scientific information that will help them make informed decisions. 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 individual members and more than 140 member organizations with a combined individual membership that exceeds 200,000. The organization is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a Public Policy Office in Washington, DC.

Biological research is in our national interest. Increasing our knowledge of the processes that regulate how genes, cells, tissues, organisms, and ecosystems function is vitally important to our collective efforts to improve the human condition. Food security, public health, bio- and national security, and sound environmental management are all informed by biological research. Our economic growth is also enhanced as a result of biological research, and the translation of this research into impactful formal and informal education programs fosters the development of the scientifically and technically informed workforce employers seek.

Over the past 50 years, roughly half of the economic growth at private businesses in the United States has resulted from advances in knowledge resulting from research and development. Evidence for this is the fact that in the last decade, 80,000 U.S. patents were based on discoveries arising from research initially funded by the NSF. Additionally, 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 by an average rate of 3 percent per year.

The NSF is an important engine powering our nation's economic growth. Through its competitive, merit reviewed research programs, the NSF invests in the development of new knowledge that will provide solutions for the most challenging problems facing society. Moreover, NSF investments in the development of research tools and facilities enable the U.S. research community to remain global leaders in innovation.

Some discoveries arising from NSF funded research include:

  • Development of an adhesive derived from the carnivorous sundew plant. Nanoparticles in the plant's adhesive stick to human cells and have the potential for healing wounds, regenerating damaged tissues, and improving synthetic adhesives.
  • Scientists at one of the 26 Long Term Ecological Research sites funded by NSF found that dead wood in forests serve many ecological functions. Tens of millions of dollars per year have been saved by leaving unmerchantable dead wood in place instead of removing it during logging.
  • NSF is stimulating the development of new imaging and data management tools to digitize biodiversity collections. This initiative is enabling the nation's 1,600 biological diversity collections, held at universities and natural history museums, to make images and data associated with millions of specimens available for novel research and education programs.

Other examples of federally-funded research that has benefited the public are chronicled in a 2016 AIBS report, "Biological Innovation: Benefits of Federal Investments in Biology," which is available at

The NSF plays a central role in science education. Support for the scientific training of undergraduate and graduate students is critically important to our research enterprise. Students learn science by doing science. These experiences are very often a result of NSF programs designed to engage students in the research process.

Initiatives such as the Graduate Research Fellowship and the Faculty Early Career Development program are important parts of our national effort to recruit and retain the best and brightest researchers. Other programs, such as the NSF Research Traineeship and Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology, provide opportunities to train biologists in high priority areas like data-enabled science and research using biological collections.

To fully realize the benefits of NSF-supported research and to remain at the forefront of innovation, the government must make new and sustained investments in the NSF. Unpredictable swings in funding can disrupt research programs, create uncertainty in the research community, and stall the development of the next great idea.

Funding rates have become "dangerously low," according to NSF. When pre-proposals are taken into account, the funding rate for some program areas within the Directorate for Biological Sciences are in the single digits. The NSF is the primary federal funding source for biological research at our nation's universities and colleges, providing nearly 68 percent of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions. Competition is good, but when success rates fall this low many scientists become demoralized and begin to look for alternative pursuits.

Funding NSF at $8.0 billion in FY 2017 is a step toward resolving the issues that slow scientific discovery. New investments would allow the agency to increase the number of proposals it funds each year by a modest one percent.

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

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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