On 26 February 2008, the Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to review the National Science Foundation (NSF) fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget request.

For the NSF, the President requested $6.85 billion for FY 09 with $5.59 billion directed to Research and Related Activities (RRA) programs, which includes the various research directorates (e.g. BIO). This proposed funding level would provide an average 16 percent ($772.52 million) cross-directorate increase over the FY 08 estimated appropriation.

The disappointment of the FY 08 omnibus appropriation – where NSF received just a 1.1 percent overall increase in funding for the RRA accounts, from $4.766 billion in FY 2007 to $4.821 billion for FY 2008 – was apparent in the opening statements of Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA), Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), NSF Director Arden Bement, and National Science Board Chairman Steven Beering.

NSB Chairman Beering reflected this sentiment when he said, “The National Science Board and the broader science and engineering community were surprised and disappointed by the actual appropriations in the fiscal year 2008 omnibus bill, which erased most of the anticipated increases in support for research.”

Ranking Member Ehlers added, “Federal apathy to NSF is causing young scientists to seek other careers.”

Chairman Baird directly questioned Bement and Beering about the prioritization of some research directorates, namely those in the physical sciences, over others such as the social and behavioral sciences. He said, “While I understand that not all fields will get equal increases every year, I want to reiterate the importance of the social sciences to all of the major challenges our nation is facing, including energy, water, health, national security and competitiveness. I’m interested in hearing from you today the justification for the budget request for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorate.”

Baird’s comment struck a chord with the biological sciences community. Like SBE, the Biological Sciences (BIO) directorate is slated for a much smaller increase in FY 09, with only 10.3 percent in new funds, $63.04 million above what BIO may receive from the FY 08 appropriation. In contrast, many of the physical science, engineering and cyber- related directorates would receive budget bumps on the order of 19 to 20 percent over FY 08 estimated appropriation. For example, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate would increase $235.36 million (20.2 percent) and the Engineering directorate would increase $122.46 million (19.2 percent) over their respective FY 08 estimated appropriations.

With regard to the differential allocation of resources among the directorates, Bement explained that NSF had to align the budget with both the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act, signed into law August 2007 (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070820.html#003930).

Baird referred Bement to language in America COMPETES that calls for parity. Public Law No: 110-69, Sec. 7018(b) specifies, “The Director shall give priority in the selection of awards and the allocation of Foundation resources to proposed research activities, and grants funded under the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account, that can be expected to make contributions in physical or natural science, technology, engineering, social sciences, or mathematics, or that enhance competitiveness, innovation, or safety and security in the United States.”

Indeed, last year the House recognized the need to ensure that all directorates have the resources required to fund the research our nation needs. Report language explaining House priorities and concerns for the FY 08 NSF appropriations, stated:

“The Committee strongly supports increases for the math and physical sciences, computer sciences, and engineering directorates in fiscal year 2008 for research and related activities (R&RA). However, the Committee also believes the Foundation should maintain comparable growth in fiscal year 2008 for the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral and economic sciences directorates. As the Innovation Agenda moves forward, it is important to note that maintaining U.S. competitiveness will depend on advances in, and the interactions among, all fields of science. The Committee expects NSF to ensure that the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorates receive increases in fiscal year 2008 that are comparable to the other directorates.”

 


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