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Committee Print – National Science Foundation programs

Date: 
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - 10:00am
Location: 
2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Opening Statement By Chairman Daniel Lipinski


This morning the Research and Science Education Subcommittee will consider the Committee Print of the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010. Today’s legislation will become an essential component of the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which will be considered by the full Committee later this month.

The Subcommittee has held a series of hearings on topics ranging from the state of STEM education at all levels to the need to promote high-risk/high-reward research, to ensuring a sustainable research infrastructure.    In addition to our Subcommittee hearings, I’ve also held a number of listening sessions across the country to gain insights from those on the frontline of research facilitated by the NSF. The result of the listening sessions and the Subcommittee hearings is a bill that will accelerate the growth of scientific knowledge, promote knowledge transfer and innovation, build a 21st century STEM workforce, and spur economic development. 
 
The NSF was established 60 years ago, growing out of wartime research efforts and Vannevar Bush’s conviction that “New products, new industries, and more jobs require continuous additions to knowledge of the laws of nature, and the application of that knowledge to practical purposes.” And it has worked. Since World War II, 50% of U.S. GDP growth has come from the development and adoption of new technologies, along with countless improvements in medicine and national security.
 
As a former assistant professor at a research university, I have a special appreciation for the NSF. In graduate school I received an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant. Throughout my time in academe, I became very familiar with the critical role that the Foundation plays. When I was elected to Congress, I immediately requested a seat on this committee, partly because of the NSF. When I had the opportunity to chair this subcommittee at the beginning of this Congress I jumped at the chance because I knew the NSF reauthorization was on the agenda.
 
While many agencies fund R&D, the NSF is unique in that supporting fundamental research and education in all STEM disciplines is its only mission. Today’s legislation authorizes $47.5 billion for NSF over the next 5 years, keeping the agency on a doubling path, as recommended in the National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and set in motion in the 2007 America COMPETES Act.  While the one-time investment NSF received through the Recovery Act helped keep the scientific enterprise thriving and the brightest young people in the STEM pipeline, sustained growth at NSF is necessary to maintain gains and to ensure U.S. competitiveness. 
 
NSF’s mission extends beyond promoting the best science, and the agency reviews grants not only on the basis of intellectual merit, but also on the broader impact of the activities proposed. Over 10 years ago, the NSF began to require that researchers include activities - such as education and public outreach - to broaden the impact of their research; unfortunately, this requirement has had uneven success. This legislation addresses this issue by requiring NSF to standardize its policies for broader impacts, requiring that proposed activities be based on proven strategies, and encouraging institutions of higher education and other education and research organizations to assist their researchers in meeting the broader impacts criterion.
 
The core of the NSF is innovation, and my legislation promotes it in a number of ways. First, it directs the NSF to spend at least 5 percent of its research budget on high-risk, high-reward proposals that have the potential to transform our understanding of science and engineering and create new frontiers. This is consistent with what we learned in our hearing on this subject last year, with recommendations in the National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, and with the 2008 American Academy of Arts and Sciences ARISE report.
 
Next, it will advance manufacturing in the U.S through investments in fundamental research in manufacturing technologies, materials, and processes. Finally, it will help build stronger university-industry partnerships and ensure that researchers at institutions of all sizes and types understand how to engage successfully in knowledge transfer and innovation. 
 
But an innovation economy needs both ideas and a talented STEM workforce.   This legislation promotes the development of all of the STEM talent our Nation has to offer by increasing the collaboration and coordination of NSF-funded education projects and by supporting early career researchers through postdoctoral fellowships. The bill also supports the equipment and infrastructure these researchers need to succeed, an issue raised continually by researchers and their academic institutions. The legislation addresses concerns about how the NSF supports mid-scale research instrumentation, and encourages the NSF to make sure that its investment in infrastructure – including cyberinfrastructure, instrumentation, and interdisciplinary centers – grows along with the overall budget.
 
Having worked on this bill for many months, I believe that we have produced legislation that we can be proud of and that will help produce a significant boost that will be felt not only in American research labs and American classrooms, but also in American homes as innovation and education produce jobs.
 
I want to thank my colleagues, including Mr. Mitchell, who have worked on and written pieces of this legislation, as well as both the Democratic and Republican committee staffers who have spent many hours working together to improve and refine the bill. Finally, I want to thank Members for their participation this morning and I look forward to a productive markup.

111th Congress