The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy


Number 100: August 23, 2000

When the Senate returns to work in two weeks, one of the major
items on its agenda will be consideration of the FY 2001 VA,
HUD, Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill. This bill,
passed by the House before the summer recess, funds the National
Science Foundation and NASA. The Senate VA, HUD appropriations
subcommittee, chaired by Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO),
has not even attempted to draft a comparable bill because it had
so little money to work with.

Bond and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are on
a mission to double the NSF budget, and should find an easier
money situation when they return to Washington next month. In
late July, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and
Republican Senators Spencer Abraham (MI), James Inhofe (OK) and
Robert Bennett (UT) sent a letter to Senate Appropriations
Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Ranking Minority
Member Robert Byrd (D-WV). Stevens and Byrd will be
instrumental in determining how much money the VA, HUD
subcommittee will have in the writing of its bill.

In this letter, Lott and his colleagues cite the decline in
funding for physics, among other disciplines. The letter also
describes the importance of nanotechnology research. It
concludes: “Senators Bond and Mikulski have just announced their
intention to double NSF in five years. This is a laudable goal
and we urge your support for NSF funding at levels sufficient to
achieve this goal.”

The letter follows:

“Dear Senators Stevens and Byrd:

“As members of the Senate High-Technology Task Force, we are
writing to highlight the importance of federal investments in
research and development and to stress the need for adequate
funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Our leading edge, high-technology constituents – both large and
small companies – consistently remind us that leadership in
science and technology is a vital foundation element in their
economic success. These companies agree with us that federal
investment in research is central to our future. Yet at a time
when the need for federally funded fundamental research has
increased, in fact it has been declining in many disciplines
critical for continued advancement, namely physics, math,
materials, chemistry and engineering research. This is creating
shortfalls in both the critical knowledge and the skilled
personnel necessary to continue new products and services.

“As you know, the federal government is the primary source of
funds for university-based fundamental research in these areas.
Industry generally recognizes that it has a major R&D
responsibility and privately funded R&D is now at an all-time
high. Unfortunately, because of marketplace pressures, most of
this research is short-term and focused on immediate business

“Programs at the NSF address many of the longer-term research
needs of the high-tech community. For example, the Information
Technology Research Initiative at NSF will fund research in
several critical areas: software, which is of paramount
importance; building information infrastructure to accommodate
increasing size, capability and complexity; extremely fast
computing systems (such as the terascale computing project); and
information storage and retrieval. There are significant needs.
For example, there is currently insufficient understanding of
how to design and test complex software systems with millions of
lines of code in the same way that we can verify whether a
bridge or an airplane is safe. Yet these software and high-end
computing systems lie at the core of worldwide financial
systems, air traffic management, defense command and control,
virtually all parts of our economy. This research will create
the human resources and new understandings to enable growth of
the Internet to continue apace.

“Nanotechnology is another very important NSF program.
Nanotechnology refers to the ability to manipulate individual
atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the
scale of human cells or create materials and structures from the
bottom up, building in desired properties. Nanotechnology is at
an exploratory state. The Nanotechnology Initiative at NSF will
fund over 600 projects and 2500 faculty and students, fund 10
large engineering research and materials research centers and 5
university-based research hubs. These efforts will, among other
things, help create the knowledge required to address the fast
approaching physical limits to semiconductor performance.

“Another key benefit of NSF funding is that it fulfills the
federal government’s unique role in preparing students. The
short-term outcome of investment in university research is that
students are better prepared to compete for the high-tech jobs
of tomorrow. Highly skilled employees are desperately needed
throughout the American economy, especially in high tech. These
funds support more professors, advanced instruction for top
students, and better equipped laboratories. The long-term
outcome of this investment is an increasing pool of knowledge
from which new technologies can be derived.

“Senators Bond and Mikulski have just announced their intention
to double NSF in five years. This is a laudable goal and we
urge your support for NSF funding at levels sufficient to
achieve this goal.

“Thank you for your consideration of our views.”

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095