April 26, 2018

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) 2019 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide the NSF with at least $8.45 billion in FY 2019.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is the national scientific organization that promotes the use of science to inform decision-making that advances biology for the benefit of science and society. Established in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS has been an independent, member-governed organization since the 1950s. The combined membership and staff of our more than 130 member organizations exceeds 200,000 individuals.

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, and sound environmental management are all informed by biological research. Biological knowledge gained from NSF-funded research also stimulates the development of new research tools and industries.

Biological research strengthens our economy. The translation of biological research into formal and informal education programs fosters the development of the scientifically and technically informed workforce employers seek. Federal research programs, especially those of the NSF, are important engines powering our nation's economic growth. 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. Research funding from NSF has given rise to successful companies, such as Genentech, Allylix, Google, and Chromatin, as well as new industries that provide more robust food crops or disease detection tools and techniques. 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 at an average rate of 3 percent per year.

The cornerstone of NSF excellence is a competitive, merit-based peer review process 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. The knowledge gained from these lines of research enabled public health officials to respond quickly when an outbreak of Zika virus started in the U.S. in late 2015.
  • Controlling invasive species: NSF-supported research on population biology and ecosystems provides the knowledge required to inform efficient strategies to combat economically harmful invasive species. Such research has shed light on the variable rates of spread of invasive species, the understanding of mass extinctions, and informed calculations of the costs resulting from invasive species.
  • Mobilizing big data: Access to and analysis of vast amounts of data are driving innovation. The NSF enables integration of big data across scientific disciplines, including applications in the biological sciences. Digitization of natural science collections involves multi-disciplinary teams, which have put more than 95 million specimens and their associated data online for use by researchers, educators, and the public.

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 NSF also plays a central role in recruitment and training of our next generation of scientists. Support for science education 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.

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 55,700. 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. NSF awards reach 2,000 colleges, universities, and other public and private institutions across the country.

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 time periods and variable spatial scales.

The U.S. share of worldwide R&D has continued to decline in the past 15 years, whereas foreign countries, especially China, have been rapidly increasing their investments in science. 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 69 percent of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

Funding the NSF at $8.45 billion in FY 2019 is a step toward resolving the issues that slow scientific discovery. The requested funding will enable NSF to pursue 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).

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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