The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hearing before the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee scheduled for March 13 was cancelled. Sources in the subcommittee’s office indicated that that day’s heavy voting schedule was the impetus to cancel the event. At present there is no intention to reschedule the hearing. Instead, National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement’s written testimony, which is virtually identical to previous written testimony submitted to the House Research and Science Education Subcommittee, was entered for the record.
Bement’s submitted testimony tied NSF funding to economic health and presented President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 request for $6.85 billion as a bulwark against Chinese ambitions. Citing a 2006 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development study, Bement cautioned that China has become the second-highest investor in R&D. While the United States has actually halved the percentage of its GDP for physical sciences and engineering research since 1970, China has more than doubled theirs since 1995.
Bement's written testimony continues by emphasizing the great advances in science NSF funding has contributed towards. Although NSF only represents four percent of the total budget for R&D, it has underwritten work that has led to the development of the MRI, flat panel and cell phone displays, and helped nearly 200 Nobel Prize-winning scientists at some point in their careers.
When Bement testified before the House Research and Science Education Subcommittee hearing on February 26, he noted a few of NSF’s key initiatives. Included were programs to solve an anticipated impediment to Moore‘s Law, enhance Adaptive Systems Technology, and boost Dynamics of Water Processes in the Environment studies. Requested funding levels for these programs are $20 million, $15 million, and $10 million respectively.
Bement concluded by summarizing the importance of diversifying the U.S. skilled workforce, a point that was questioned by chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) who said, “I noted with some concern… a proposal to reduced funding for ADVANCE.” Baird explained that he and others felt that ADVANCE was an important program to retain women in the sciences. Bement responded that although the funding was lower there would be some spending flexibility in FY 2009, emphasizing, “… we are very committed to the program.”
According to subcommittee ranking member Vern Ehlers (R-MI), “An essential element of NSF’s mission is support for science and engineering education. I would appreciate if you could explain why your… FY 2009 budget does not include funding for many of the STEM education activities authorized in the COMPETES Act.” Bement countered that a tight budget in combination with a “show me” philosophy to increase funding meant that funding increases were not possible until some metrics were available, but that he was confident that in coming years STEM education activities could reach authorization levels.
Ehlers transitioned to a discussion on the lack of uniform standards for science in schools, a problem he hopes to end with legislation he has introduced, H.R. 325, with Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) offering an identical bill in the Senate. The Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids (SPEAK) Act, would create voluntary math and science standards for K-12 students, with an incentive for states to join.
Ultimately, Bement’s testimony and responses to questions were well received by the subcommittee. Member’s priorities seem to be finding a way to get NSF back on the COMPETES doubling track. Currently there are no further committee hearings scheduled to discuss NSF’s FY 2009 budget.