The National Science Board has just released a 41-page report entitled "Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century, the Role of the National Science Foundation." The Board welcomes comments on this report by January 9.
The National Science Board, as described in the report's preface, "serves as the policy-making body of NSF and provides advice to the President and Congress on matters of national science and engineering policy." The board has lately become more prominent as bill language was crafted for H.R. 4664, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act. This bill increases the independence of the Board. President Bush will sign H.R. 4664 into law at a White House ceremony later today.
John A. White, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas, chaired the panel writing the report. Five recommendations were made. The first recommendation is apt to receive the most attention, as it calls for "increasing the share of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure." This recommendation reads as follows:
"Increase the share of the budget devoted to S&E infrastructure."
"NSF's future investment in S&E infrastructure should be increased in order to respond to the needs and opportunities identified in this report. It is hoped that the majority of these additional resources can be provided through future growth of the NSF budget. The more immediate needs must be at least partially addressed through increasing the share of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure. The current 22 percent of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure is too low and should be increased. In increasing the infrastructure share, the focus should be on providing individual investigators and groups of investigators with the resources they need to work at the frontiers of S&E."
The FY 2002 budget (the last one enacted by Congress) provided $139 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities such as LHC, HIAPER and the Terascale Computing Program. This budget category funds about one-half of the total infrastructure support provided by NSF. The report calls for at least $350 million for the next several years to reduce the backlog of large facility projects. Other sections of the budget furnish infrastructure support. The report explains that the Engineering Activity devotes 1% of its budget to "Tools." The Geosciences Activity allocates 39% of its total budget for infrastructure, while the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Activity provides 25% of its overall budget for tools, "most of which goes to the larger facilities." The total FY 2002 NSF budget was $4,789 million.
The second recommendation prioritizes future activities, with advanced cyberinfrastructure shown first. The third calls for an expansion of education and training opportunities at facilities, while another recommends strengthening infrastructure planning and budgeting. The final recommendation sets forth a number of interagency plans and strategies.
"There can be no doubt that a modern and effective research infrastructure is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in S&E," the report states, identifying the National Science Foundation as the federal "leader" providing the academic community with access to cutting-edge instrumentation and facilities. "NSF must be prepared to assume a greater S&E infrastructure role for the benefit of the nation," the panel concluded. The panel limited its in-depth analysis to NSF, and did not survey the infrastructure support programs of NASA, DOE, DOD, and NIH.
A table details the deficit figures for research space at academic institutions, as of 2001. Physical sciences and mathematics researchers need 25% more, while engineering, and earth/atmospheric/ocean researchers each requires 26% additional space. The figure for computer sciences was the most extreme at 109%. One "rough indication of need" over the next ten years, as estimated by the NSF directorates and the Office of Polar Programs is $18.9 billion.
The entire report can be viewed at the following site: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2002/nsb02190/nsb02190.htm
The closing date for public comments is January 9, 2003. Comments are welcome, and should be sent to nsb-inf [at] nsf.gov