Senate Letter Supporting National Science Foundation Funding

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Publication date: 
20 March 2015

Appropriators in the House and Senate are moving quickly in their review of the Obama Administration’s FY 2016 budget request.  Simultaneous hearings are being held on many department and agency requests as the appropriators look toward the drafting of their funding legislation.   They have a difficult job this year in finding money for the budget increases because overall funding is being kept essentially flat.

One way to demonstrate support for a department or agency is when a senator or representative signs a letter to appropriators.  Many of these letters are circulating on Capitol Hill with Members alerted to them with a cover letter known as a “Dear Colleague.”

Letters are circulating for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.  (Note that the deadline for representatives to sign a letter for NSF has been extended to Monday, March 23.)    A new opportunity to demonstrate support for the National Science Foundation is now available to senators.

The request, in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter to all senators was sent on Wednesday by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA).  Senators were asked to sign a letter to Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) requesting that the subcommittee’s bill fully fund the FY 2016 request for NSF.

Members of Congress receive many of these “Dear Colleague” requests and are more likely to consider them if contacted by a constituent. The deadline for signatures is March 31.

The text of the body of the letter, as distributed, follows:

Dear Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Mikulski:

We are writing to request that you include at $7.7 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), as included in the President's FY 2016 budget request, in the Senate Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. This funding is a critical investment in our national economy and education system.

America's economic success in the 20th century was due in large part to its commitment to investments in science and engineering research. Basic research is a part of every new product, every new medical device or drug, and every new technology. Unfortunately, the recent American Academy of Arts and Sciences Restoring the Foundation report indicates that the United States has slipped to tenth place among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations in overall research and development as a percentage of Gross National Product.

If our nation does not act to shore up its scientific research expenditures, we are in danger of losing the advantage America has long held as an engine of innovation that generates new discoveries and stimulates job growth. America's economic competitors are moving aggressively to increase their own investments. For example, China's research and development investment is growing at an average annual rate of eight percent above inflation and is on a path to overtake the United States in just eight years.

A foundation and fundamental understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is vitally important as we educate the next generation of leaders to compete in the global economy. Demand for highly educated and highly trained professionals in STEM and health care-related fields are at an all-time high. The United States must produce one million more STEM professionals in the next decade to keep up with workforce needs in growing STEM fields. Our nation is ranked 26th in math and 21st in science performance. We cannot afford to continue to fall further behind in STEM education.

The NSF is the only federal agency specifically responsible for supporting essential education and research across all science and engineering fields -- a role that is vital to economic competitiveness and to cultivating a workforce capable of keeping pace with the global economy. Nearly one out of every four basic research projects at colleges and universities across the United States is supported by the NSF. The NSF awards the majority of its budget on a peer-reviewed, competitive basis to individuals and small groups of researchers at public and private institutions of higher learning through approximately 11,000 new grant awards per year.

Awards from the NSF enable faculty and students to access the resources they need and support the necessary infrastructure and tools to address some of our society's most pressing concerns. Research funded by the NSF has led to discoveries as small as proteins that protect cells from freezing, to those as large as new planets. In many cases, the basic research facilitated by the NSF is then commercialized by domestic companies, benefiting the private sector and the U.S. economy. The applications of NSF research have helped many businesses create jobs by developing new products from advanced radar systems and next generation high definition videoconferencing, to more efficient and affordable solar energy materials and genetically engineered tissues for medical procedures.

We must remain committed to strengthening our workforce and competing with countries that are investing significant resources in STEM education and basic research in support of innovation. We urge you to include $7.7 billion for the NSF in the Senate bill in support of the balanced research and education portfolio proposed in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget request.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of our request.