Senate Committee Discusses Investments in Research and Development

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Publication date: 
2 April 2012

The March 6 hearing “Keeping America Competitive Through  Investments in R&D” of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s  Subcommittee on Science and Space provided an opportunity for budget and program  discussions between senators and witnesses John Holdren, Director of the Office  of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of  Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of  Standards and Technology (NIST); Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science  Foundation (NSF); and Mason Peck, Chief Technologist of the National  Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The hearing focused on the current state of federal  research and development in the context of President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013  budget request and included an overview of the workforce needs to improve US  science, technology, and engineering capabilities.  Public-private partnerships as well as the  development of technologies for commercial purposes were also subjects  discussed at the hearing.

Gallagher, Peck, and Suresh offered a summary of the FY 2013  budget request for their respective agencies while Holdren spoke to the broad  goals of OSTP initiatives.  Holdren  stated:

“The  2013 Budget recognizes today’s difficult economic circumstances and makes tough  choices, limiting spending in many areas that in other times would be deemed  worthy of greater support. But the Budget also focuses on and shows confidence  in the future. By building and fueling America’s engines of discovery, it will  expand the frontiers of human knowledge, promote sustainable economic growth  based in part on a revitalized American manufacturing sector, cultivate an  American clean-energy future, improve health-care outcomes for more people at  lower cost, address the challenge of global climate change, manage competing  demands on environmental resources, and reinforce our national security.”

The questions following the testimony demonstrated  the subcommittee’s support for basic research. 

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller  (D-WV) described the goals of the COMPETES Act as: increased research and  development investments; strengthening science, technology, engineering, and  mathematics (STEM) education; and the development of US research  infrastructure.  Rockefeller asked Suresh  about the involvement of NSF in cybersecurity research.  Suresh responded by providing the subcommittee  with details about the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program and the  Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.   Holdren  added details about the networking and information research and development  program under the National Science and Technology Council and referred  Rockefeller to the strategic plan for the federal cybersecurity research and  development program which was released in December of 2011. 

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) inquired as  to why there was a 25 percent cut in NASA’s education program in this era of  improving STEM education.  Holdren  responded that there had been an inventory done of the over 200 STEM education  programs in the federal government and that NASA was able to look for  opportunities for consolidation and improved efficiency of their programs.  He emphasized that NASA continues to support education  programs and that these cuts do not reflect on NASA’s interest in exciting  young people in STEM fields.  Holdren  added that there are programs within NASA which contribute to science  education, such as the Space Technology Program, which fall under other areas  of the budget. 

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) spurred a  discussion about interdisciplinary research as he asked about current research  trends.  Suresh responded that a solid  foundation in basic research is necessary for interdisciplinary research and  described basic research programs at NSF in addition to the Science, Engineering  and Education for Sustainability NSF-wide investment. 

Nelson later asked questions regarding  the Innovation Corps at NSF.  Suresh emphasized  that the Innovation Corps is based on research and went into detail about how  the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) offers training in entrepreneurship as well  as mentorship programs to smaller undergraduate institutions that would not  otherwise have access to these resources.   He also emphasized that public-private partnerships are critical to this  program at NSF. 

FYIs on the budget requests for OSTP,  NIST, NSF, and NASA can be read on the AIP website

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