Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) will send a letter to key appropriators later this month in support of a FY 2006 budget of $6.1 billion for the National Science Foundation. Holt and Ehlers have invited their colleagues to sign this letter. The number of representatives who sign this letter will depend heavily on the extent to which constituents express their support for this effort. The deadline for signatures is April 22.
"We need to get back on track after the cuts of FY 2005," states this letter to Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Wolf and Mollohan will play a critical role in determining the FY 2006 funding for NSF. Last fall, the foundation's budget was cut by $105 million for the current year. The Bush Administration requested an increase of $132 million for next year for a total budget of $5.605 billion. Even if this request was funded in full, it would be less than what the NSF received in FY 2004. A similar letter in support of NSF was signed by 162 representatives last year.
The mailboxes of Members of Congress are filled with "Dear Colleague" letters requesting their support for a program – evidence that these letters can be effective. Members are far more likely to sign such a letter if constituents take the time to alert their representatives to these letters and indicate their support for the effort. The telephone number for the U.S. House of Representatives is 202-225-3121.
The text of the Ehlers - Holt letter to Chairman Frank Wolf and Ranking Member Alan Mollohan in support of the FY 2006 National Science Foundation budget follows:
"Dear Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Mollohan:
"As supporters of fundamental scientific research and education, we respectively ask that you make the National Science Foundation (NSF) funding a priority and provide $6.1 billion in your Fiscal Year 2006 Science, State, Justice and Commerce Subcommittee appropriations legislation.
"Innovation is the engine that drives our economy. Economists estimate that more than half the economic growth in the past 50 years can be attributed to technological innovation. As other nations are significantly increasing their funding of basic research, the U.S. leadership in science and technology is endangered and cannot be indefinitely taken for granted.
"Clearly the government plans a role in innovation, as two-thirds of U.S. patents cite federal funding as their source of support. Federally funded basic research has cultivated groundbreaking technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), global positioning systems (GPS), human genome mapping, lasers, fiber optics and many, many more. NSF research supports technologies that are later applied by other agencies, ranging from Doppler radar, which has saved many lives through accurate weather forecasts, to laser-guided weapons, which have revolutionized combat. Recently, NSF has pioneered the developing field of nanotechnology, with innumerable applications to the defense of our nation, improvements in healthcare, and quality of life. Though NSF receives only 4 percent of the total federal research and development budget, it is the bedrock of our scientific strength and provides the basis for innovation and development throughout our economy.
"NSF has also been praised as a model of administrative efficiency for its low overhead costs and efficient use of tax dollars – over 95 percent of its funds go directly to support education and research programs.
"NSF is a key supporter of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. In 2004, it supported more than 200,000 students, teachers and researchers – providing essential development for the current and future generations of scientists, engineers and technical workers. This year that number will drop to 168,000 as NSF budget reductions cut support for undergraduates and K-12 teachers and students. Now, more than ever, we must invest in our children's education to develop their talent, ensure their success, and maintain the quality of our workforce and economic strength. NSF, with its expertise in merit-review awards, is uniquely positioned to contribute to math and science education. NSF education endeavors are complementary to those of the Department of Education, as NSF research provides the foundation for much of the applications promoted by the Department of Education. We should continue to strongly support the educational mission of the NSF.
"In the FY 2005 Omnibus Spending Bill (P.L. 108-447), the NSF budget was cut by $180 million, or $272 million below the President's request of $5.75 billion. We must act to restore this cut as well as provide an increase consistent with previous NSF budgets. In 2002, Congress recognized the importance of an investment in basic research by overwhelmingly passing the National Science Foundation Authorization Act (P.L.107-368) which authorizes doubling the budget of NSF over five years. We realize that budget realities may not allow Congress to fully fund NSF at the FY 2006 authorized level of $8.5 billion. However, we need to get back on track after the cuts of FY 2005. Therefore, we believe than an increase above the FY 2005 $5.75 billion request is warranted.
"We are mindful that you will be faced with very difficult choices this year. But we must recognize the unique role that NSF funding plays in increasing economic growth in our nation and providing a means to compete successfully against other countries. We respectfully request that you fund NSF at $6.1 billion for FY 2006. We cannot afford to shortchange the fundamental sciences on which our future and our children's future depend."