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National Science Foundation Reauthorization, Part 1

Date: 
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 12:00am
Location: 
Washington, DC

Opening Statement By Chairman Brian Baird

Good morning. I want to welcome you to the first of two Research and Science Education Subcommittee hearings dedicated to the development of legislation to reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation.

Today, we will hear from the distinguished Director of the National Science Foundation and the Chair of the National Science Board.

Next week, we will hear from a diverse panel of outside witnesses who will weigh in on some of the broader issues we hope to address through this legislation – including support for young investigators, NSF’s important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, the industry’s role in supporting basic research, and the future of interdisciplinary research.

In fiscal year 2006, new investigators achieved an 18 percent funding success rate, compared to a returning investigator success rate of 30 percent and an overall Agency rate of 25 percent. I know that NSF is making it a priority to narrow this gap, and that it supports outstanding young investigators through the very prestigious CAREER grants program. However, I believe that more can be done to nurture and support new researchers and that we need to be creative in figuring out ways to keep bright young researchers in the pipeline. For this reason, the Committee is considering creating a pilot program of seed grants to new investigators to give them an opportunity to strengthen their proposals before resubmitting them through the merit review process.

Another topic of particular interest to me is industry’s role in funding basic research. There are some leaders in high-tech industries that understand that their future depends in large part on the scientific advances made by researchers in university labs across the country. Unfortunately, however, most in industry fail to see, or ignore, the potential for university-industry partnerships to further their own success and competitiveness. NSF can play a significant role in changing attitudes and fostering partnerships, by providing incentives to both university researchers and private sector officials to bridge this divide and encourage industry participation in research.

This subcommittee is also very concerned about the slow growth, and in some cases shrinking, budgets of STEM education programs at NSF. Chairman Gordon introduced legislation to strengthen and broaden existing K-12 STEM education programs at NSF, in particular the Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, the Math and Science Partnerships and the STEM Talent Expansion program. Today, I would like to spend time discussing NSF’s role in STEM education, including technical training at 2-year colleges through the Advanced Technological Education program.

Today, I also hope that we will explore the concept of interdisciplinary research. The frontiers of 21st Century science are very much dominated by what most would consider to be interdisciplinary research – that is, research conducted by teams of scientists that integrate information, data, methods, perspectives and theories from two or more bodies of specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or solve problems beyond the scope of a single discipline. Without compromising the strength of the individual disciplines or the ability of the lone scientist to make great advances on narrow topics within his or her own field, we need to make sure that interdisciplinary proposals get a fair hearing. NSF has shown great leadership on this issue, but I believe that there are probably ways to better define this process. I look forward to ongoing discussions with the Agency and the community on ways to go about this.

I should add that many of these issues and others that we must deal with in the context of the NSF reauthorization bill are issues that the greater scientific community is also grappling. However, because NSF funds 20 percent of the basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities, across all science and engineering disciplines, and continues to be at the forefront of the ever-evolving scientific enterprise, they are issues of particular importance to me, to this subcommittee, and to NSF.

In addition to some of these broad issues, we will also take a look today at some specific budget and administrative issues at the Foundation - some of which are longstanding issues of concern, and others of which have been brought to the attention of the Committee more recently.

I want to note that this Committee supports the Administration’s proposal to double funding for basic physical science research over a ten-year period, and the authorization levels that we will propose for NSF are aligned with the Administration’s plans. However, I also want to suggest that we can’t afford to keep playing this game of increasing funding for one set of disciplines while decreasing or flat-lining funding for others. We will continue to advocate for increases in funding for basic and applied research across the board, but we need help from the entire scientific community in justifying such increases to the rest of our colleagues in Congress.

We must also recognize that these are tight budget times. We can’t just throw money at science because we want to. We need to maintain due diligence in ensuring that the research we fund is of top quality, that federally-funded researchers are held to the highest standards for ethical conduct of research, and that we are thoughtful in setting priorities for research funding.

Finally, before I close, I want to be clear that I want the process of developing the NSF reauthorization bill to be open, transparent and responsive to all concerned parties both within and outside of government. I welcome your suggestions, and encourage you to be in touch with me with your thoughts or ideas.

Dr. Bement and Dr. Beering, thank you for being here today. I look forward to hearing your testimony today and to receiving your input and guidance us as we develop this NSF reauthorization legislation.

And I now yield to my colleague, Ranking Member Ehlers for his opening remarks.

Witnesses

Panel

1 - Dr. Arden L. Bement
Director National Science Foundation National Science Foundation
Download the Witness Testimony

2 - Dr. Steven C. Beering
Chairman, National Science Board President (Emeritus), Purdue University President (Emeritus), Purdue University
Download the Witness Testimony

Witness Panel
Dr. Bement testifies before the Subcommittee
Dr. Bement
Dr. Beering testifies before the Subcommittee
Dr. Beering
For information on the witnesses, use the links at left
110th Congress