April 22, 2019
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) 2020 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). We encourage Congress to provide NSF with at least $9 billion in FY 2020.
AIBS is a scientific association dedicated to promoting informed decision-making that advances biological research and education for the benefit of science and society. AIBS works to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to information that can guide informed decision-making.
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, economic growth, and sound environmental management are informed by the biological sciences. The knowledge gained from NSF-funded research contributes to the development of new research tools and industries.
Biological research strengthens our economy. The translation of biological knowledge into formal and informal education programs fosters the development of a scientifically and technically informed workforce. NSF research programs are important engines powering our nation's economy. 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, 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 three percent per year.
The cornerstone of NSF excellence is a competitive, merit-based review system 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. Knowledge gained from this work enabled public health officials to respond quickly when an outbreak of Zika virus started in the U.S. in late 2015.
- 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.
- Enabling synthetic biology: DNA editing has become more advanced and targeted with techniques such as CRISPR-CAS9 allowing scientists to rewrite genetic code and redesign biological systems. The NSF funds research on how these techniques can be used to bio-manufacture new materials, treat diseases, and accelerate the bioeconomy.
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 supports 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.
NSF awards reached 1,800 colleges, universities, and other public and private institutions across the country in FY 2018. 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 57,700. Support for Graduate Research Fellowships and CAREER grants would be cut by 10 percent compared to FY 2018 under the President's proposal, while the budget for Faculty early career development programs would shrink by 13 percent. Other programs, such as the NSF Research Traineeship and Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology, which provide opportunities to train biologists in high priority areas like data-enabled science and research using biological collections, are also facing budget cuts.
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 periods of time and diverse geographic scales.
Federal R&D investments as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product are declining. The U.S. is still the largest performer of R&D globally, but its share of worldwide R&D has diminished over the past 15 years. Other countries, especially China, are rapidly increasing their investments in science. To fully realize the benefits of NSF-supported research and to remain at the global 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 considered, 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.
The President's budget request for FY 2020 proposes a 12.5 percent cut to NSF, including a 13 percent reduction in its research activities. If enacted, this budget will hurt research and undermine our ability to address national challenges. Congress provided NSF with $8.075 billion in funding for FY 2019, an increase of 4 percent. This increase allows for critical federal investments in scientific and educational research as well as support for the development of the scientific workforce. We encourage Congress to continue supporting increased investments in our nation's scientific capacity.
Funding NSF at $9 billion in FY 2020 is a step toward responding to years of stagnant funding that have slowed discovery. The requested funding enables NSF to accelerate progress on 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.
Read more AIBS Position Statements