Subcommittee hears criteria for determining future funding levels

A panel of academic and industry experts unanimously agreed at a House Science Subcommittee on Research hearing today that National Science Foundation (NSF) funding should be increased and offered criteria for determining how much of an increase NSF should receive. The witnesses also said that a clear-cut mission, similar to landing an astronaut on the moon, winning the Cold War, or curing cancer, would bolster public support for increasing the investment in basic research at NSF.Ê The hearing focused on determining future funding levels at NSF, correcting the imbalance in the federal research portfolio, and communicating the need for increased investment in basic research to the public.

“While it is very difficult to quantify the return on federal investments in basic research, its footprints are unmistakably part of the world around us,” explained Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI).Ê “Knowledge from NSF-funded research resulting in modern industries such as genomics, information technologies, and communications has clearly made our lives better.”

Dr. Irwin Feller, Professor of Economics at The Pennsylvania State University offered three factors for deciding funding at NSF, “Intellectual excitement at the frontiers of knowledge, contributions to national priorities, and capabilities of American universities for research and education.”Ê Dr. Feller added, “Together, these factors – the true excitement that exists at the frontiers of knowledge and the low levels of project-based support – suggest the need for increases in funds for NSF’s core research directorates.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) added, “Our witnesses at today’s hearing provided ample evidence of the inadequacy of current funding for NSF.Ê Their testimony makes the case for the 4-year NSF authorization bill I introduced last year that would have continued the budget-doubling path for NSF initiated by the agency’s fiscal year 2001 appropriation.Ê It is time for Congress to act and provide the resources necessary for NSF to sustain a vigorous academic research enterprise for the nation.”Ê

The panel also discussed the need to increase public awareness of the importance of federal investment in basic research.Ê Dr. Karen S. Harpp, Professor at Colgate University, suggested that there is a fundamental fear of science among the public that might be eased by sending undergraduate students into the community as a way to “demystify science.”Ê

Scott Donnelly, Senior Vice President for Global Research at GE, explained that research and development always gained public support when there was a well-defined mission to achieve.Ê Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert concurred, offering his own mission statement.Ê “The mission of the National Science Foundation is, and should continue to be, to provide better jobs at higher pay and a more robust research and development effort leading to greater economic stability, national security, and a world at peace,” Boehlert said.