WASHINGTON – At his first hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Research, Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) today highlighted the importance of basic research to the nation and expressed concern about proposed funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2006.  The Subcommittee hearing examined the FY 2006 budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and management challenges facing the agency.

“Basic research is the lifeblood of innovation,” Chairman Inglis said.  “It used to be that our large companies did the basic research-companies like Bell Labs, IBM, and Xerox.  They were supplemented by the work of the DOE, DOD, and NSF.  Now, market pressures and shifting government priorities have pushed the burden almost entirely to the federal government, and, increasingly, NSF.  Without NSF supporting basic research, our edge in science will slip away and an innovation gap will grow.

“That’s why I’m so concerned about the current NSF budget.  Although there is a slight increase this year, it doesn’t make up for last year’s cuts, and is still below the FY 2004 level.  It is also now far from the Congress’ promise to double the NSF budget over five years.  On my previous stint in Congress, I was on the Budget Committee and I was quite concerned about our budget deficit.  I learned during those years that getting it balanced requires spending restraint and economic growth.  We’ve got to stop spending and start investing.  Investing in basic and applied science research makes sense.  If we invest wisely, we can find economic growth through innovation.” 

Chairman Inglis added that he was concerned about proposed funding reductions in NSF’s educational activities.  “I wonder about the cuts in math and science education, and indications that some NSF activities may be ‘migrating’ to the Department of Education.  The NSF has a passion for excellence, while the Department of Education is arguably focused on proficiency.  Passion isn’t easily transferred.”

Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Arden Bement, Director of NSF; Dr. Mark Wrighton, Chairman of the Audit and Oversight Committee of the National Science Board and Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis; and Dr. Christine Boesz, Inspector General of NSF.

Following the witnesses’ oral testimony, Members of the Subcommittee questioned the panel about the proposed funding levels for FY 2006, including requested cuts to math and science education.  Members also highlighted ongoing concerns regarding the proposed transfer to NSF of funding responsibility for icebreaking activities in the Antarctic Ocean.  Also discussed during the hearing were management challenges facing NSF, including workforce planning and post-award management. 

Dr. Bement testified that the proposed funding increase for NSF is reflective of the Administration’s confidence in the agency and the importance to the U.S. economy of NSF’s investments in research and development.  “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.”

“For us to sustain our preeminence in important areas of science and technology, I believe that we are going to have to make an even greater investment in finding not only the best science and engineering to support, but also the highest impact science and engineering,” said Dr. Wrighton.  “Overall I think our competitiveness as a nation will hinge on ramping up our investment in science and engineering in ways that allow us to remain preeminent.  These investments are a source of innovation for America and nothing will be more important than securing our economic wellbeing.”   

Dr. Boesz told the Committee that her office conducts an annual assessment of the greatest management and performance challenges facing NSF.  In her testimony, she outlined her office’s concerns about NSF’s post-award monitoring of research grants, oversight of large facilities construction, and workforce planning.  She testified, “I realize that resources are needed for NSF to fully address these challenges.  However, I also believe that realignment of NSF’s management priorities should ease the resource burden.”

  All of today’s hearing materials are available on the Committee’s website.  The hearing charter, Chairman Inglis’ opening statement and the witnesses’ prepared testimony are available at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/research05/index.htm.  An archived webcast of the hearing is available at http://www.house.gov/science/webcast/index.htm.