Encouraging Words from Senate NSF Appropriators

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Publication date: 
1 March 2005

"We have fallen off the path for doubling NSF's budget, but we must not give up."
- Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Bond

The hearing only lasted about one hour, but that was more than enough time for the two key senators with jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation to voice their strong support for the agency. Both VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) made very positive statements about NSF at the February 17 hearing on its budget request.

Chairman Bond's words left no doubt about his high regard for the foundation, and his support for physical sciences: "As many of you know, I have been, and will continue to be a strong supporter of NSF and a robust budget for NSF as well. My support for the work done at NSF has not, and will not diminish." He continued, "Unfortunately, the Federal government has not adequately supported NSF and the physical sciences. I strongly believe that the funding disparity between the life sciences and the physical sciences has grown too large. This funding imbalance is alarming because it directly jeopardizes our Nation's ability to lead the world in scientific innovation. Further, we are jeopardizing the work of the National Institutes of Health because we are undermining the physical sciences, which provide the underpinning for medical technological advances."

Under the Bush Administration's request, NSF funding would increase 2.4% in FY 2006 over the current year. Bond voiced his disapproval: "Sadly, the budget request for NSF does not provide it with adequate resources to meet its mission. While Dr. Marburger [who was a witness at this hearing] and our friends at OMB will state that NSF's budget is one of the few increases in the federal budget, it does not give me any solace. This is especially disappointing given the efforts of myself, Senator Mikulski, and many of my other colleagues to double the funding of NSF. We have fallen off the path for doubling NSF's budget, but we must not give up."

Mikulski was as critical: "This barely keeps pace with inflation. Most disturbing is the cut to education programs. This budget actually cuts education programs by 12%. Research is increased by just over 2% - which barely keeps pace with inflation. Yet, salaries and expenses rise by 22%, and major equipment goes up by 44%. I do not doubt the value, need or resources devoted to major equipment. But when every other part of the NSF budget is starved for resources, a huge increase like that stands out." Mikulski, whose sentiments on NSF funding align closely with those of Bond, also cited their mutual effort to double the foundation's budget. She stated, "Senator Bond and I are committed to doubling the NSF budget over five years. We have increased NSF's budget by an average of 10% over the President's budget for the last several years. But this Administration has broken its promise to NSF. In 2002, the President signed the NSF Authorization into law. It authorized a doubling of the NSF budget between 2002 and 2007. In 2006, NSF is authorized to be funded at $8.5 billion. Yet the President's 2006 budget funds NSF at $5.6 billion - 34% below where it should be."

NSF Director Arden Bement explained the Administration's request for NSF as follows: "In light of the tight fiscal times, NSF fared relatively well. For the coming fiscal year, NSF requests $5.6 billion, an increase of $132 million, or 2.4%, over last year's appropriated level. At a time when many agencies are looking at budget cuts, an increase in our budget underscores the Administration's support of NSF's science and engineering programs, and reflects the agency's excellent management and program results." Bement's words were reinforced by National Science Board Chairman Warren Washington who also testified at this hearing, who stated that the requested increase was "a significant investment in NSF programs in a time of National fiscal austerity."

OSTP Director Marburger's written testimony briefly described the Administration's rationale behind the requested increase for NSF, but did not address the type of concerns which Chairman Bond made in his written remarks. Marburger did say, speaking about the R&D request in general that "Making choices is difficult even when budgets are generous. But tight budgets have the virtue of focusing on priorities and strengthening program management. This year's R&D budget proposal maintains levels of funding that allow America to maintain its leadership position in science and move ahead in selected priority areas."

Bond and Mikulski's statements reinforced their opening written remarks. Bond's inflections matched his words when he told the Administration's witnesses that "I am unhappy," and looking straight at Marburger, the chairman said of his efforts to significantly boost NSF funding, "I can't do it if OMB undercuts us." Bond was also unhappy with House appropriators, who have reshuffled subcommittee jurisdictions that are now out of alignment with those in the Senate. Bond called the House's actions "hasty and ill-advised," saying that it will force an Omnibus appropriations bill late this year. Under such a scenario, Bond predicted, basic research will be cut, as it was in the last omnibus. In any case, Bond said, it will be a "major challenge to find funds for NSF in 2006."

Bond was also unhappy with the proposed "disturbing" cuts in NSF's education programs (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/022.html ), asking what the Administration could have been thinking. He contended that this would damage efforts to attract minority students into science, and said the United States could not continue to rely on foreign students. Mikulski later had similar comments. Also noted by Bond was his unhappiness with NSF's management of large facilities, calling its reform efforts too slow (later saying that the foundation's lagging pace "drives us nuts," and adding that the subcommittee "will hold the foundation accountable.") Bond also told NSB Chairman Washington that the Board needed to develop a strategic plan for the foundation.

Chairman Bond also had words for the research community. Describing efforts to double the foundation's budget as one of the nation's "highest priorities," he said, "This must mean a greater effort by the research and high-tech sector in advocating and ‘selling' the virtues of NSF to the general public." To do this he added, "come out of your labs, out of your think tanks, and let people know how important this funding is."

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