Testimony to the Congressional House Appropriations Subcommittee on the FY 2005 appropriations for the National Science Foundation
March 25, 2004
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify here today. My name is Mary Sue Coleman. I am the President of the University of Michigan, and professor of chemistry and biological chemistry at the University of Michigan. My research has been concerned with the immune system and malignancies. I am here to testify with heartfelt enthusiasm for the NSF, but it is worth noting that my own research laboratories were continuously funded by the NIH.
Today I am representing the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy, a coalition of nonprofit scientific societies representing over 49,000 biomedical research scientists. As long-time advocates for basic biomedical research, we are fully aware that current budget constraints make your complex decisions even more difficult this year.
Why is a career NIH-funded researcher here in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF)? For two reasons.
First, because the NSF is the only agency which supports basic research and education across all major scientific and engineering disciplines. Over the years, Congressional funding of the NSF has allowed America’s scientific community to probe the far corners of the universe, to create new building materials for the 21st century, and to better understand the basic building blocks of biological activity. NSF-sponsored research in engineering has led to more efficient power grids, water systems and computer-communications systems to meet our country’s ever-growing needs. Similarly, NSF-sponsored research is providing a better understanding of weather, climate, and natural resources, which improves the speed and effectiveness of natural disaster prediction. Two relatively new areas of science are the direct result of funding from the NSF. These are nanotechnology and biotechnology, which have enormous potential for economic and societal benefit.
Second, the NSF serves as the incubator for translational and applied research that, once initial results are established, go on to be supported by other agencies like National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The NSF is a foundation for innovation and productivity at all other federal research agencies. This broad support of basic science has been critical to the development of both new scientific understanding, and new tools for the other sciences to use in advancement of their own research. It is a major contributor to the technological capabilities of the United States.
Even though the budget of the NSF is only 4% of the total annual Federal spending for research and development, it supports over 200,000 researchers, post-docs, trainees and students at more than 2000 universities, colleges, and nonprofit organizations across the United States. As a percentage of total Federal support for academic research, the NSF provides:
35% for the physical sciences
42% for engineering
49% for environmental sciences
64% for social sciences
65% of basic research for biology (excluding NIH)
71% for mathematical sciences
87% for computer science
A diverse, interdisciplinary fundamental research portfolio is essential to most NSF programs and vital to the long-term health and vitality of the nation. In the burgeoning field of bioscience, we greatly benefit from the creativity of interdisciplinary research, drawing scientists together from across the array of fields that NSF funds. Increasingly, interdisciplinary approaches are needed to solve complex problems in life sciences and other areas. Basic research sponsored by the NSF has resulted in developments as important and diverse as Doppler radar, the Internet, sign language, bar codes, artificial retinas, and tissue engineering . These technological advances not only advance the science and enhance our lives, they also become extremely important economic engines for our economy. They improve our economic competitiveness and give us what economists call a comparative advantage over other nations. Expanding our frontiers of learning and discovery through investments in NSF research is the most productive way to keep the United States prosperous and secure.
Let me give you two examples. On my own campus in Ann Arbor, we have two major Engineering Research Centers funded by the National Science Foundation. Each of these centers is focused on cutting-edge discoveries, and at the same time, each center is extending outstanding educational opportunities to the next generation of engineers, while also providing a stimulus to industry and the economy.
The research and development that continues to grow at our universities provide an "innovation engine" that is essential to our national economy, providing basic and applied research and serving as the genesis of significant economic development.
In our College of Engineering, the NSF has funded the Wireless Integrated MicroSystems, or WIMS, center. This center focuses on the development of low-cost, integrated microsystems that will have far-ranging applications for industry, health care, and the environment.
We have used the funding from the National Science Foundation
to leverage other funding, including support from the State of
Michigan, which recognizes
value of this research. We also have two partner institutions in this
Michigan State University and the Michigan Technological University.
In addition to the research of our faculty and students, a significant aspect of the mission of this center is to provide links to industry. We do this by sponsoring ongoing seminars exploring technological advances in microsystems and their implications for society.
The center also established an Industrial Partnership Program, involving 25 leading companies and non-profit organizations. Nearly all participants maintain leading-edge research programs in microelectronics and wireless communications.
The NSF has also funded our Center in Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems, which is developing the science base for a new generation of manufacturing systems that can be quickly designed, upgraded, or reconfigured to provide the precise production capacity needed to meet market demands. This center also has leveraged the NSF support to obtain funding from industry and the State of Michigan.
Centers such as these, and the research that is conducted at these centers, are critically important to our advancement in science and innovation in industry. However, there are many, many more excellent proposals submitted to the NSF than it is able to fund.
Only one out of every four highly-rated proposals the NSF receives in its core science and engineering research programs is funded. This low level of funding, combined with a recognition that there needed to be a greater investment in the physical sciences, led the Congress to approve the recent NSF Authorization Bill, which calls for a doubling of NSF funding over the next five years. We urge Congress to fulfill that pledge and ensure as many highly qualified NSF proposals as possible are funded. We also ask that the average grant size and duration be increased. This would allow researchers to focus more on their work than on the next grant deadline.
While these may seem to be small issues in the current budget situation, it is clear to me that the NSF budget is an investment in our future which we cannot view as a luxury. I have been communicating an essential message in my home State of Michigan: that an investment in our universities is an investment in the State. It is a message worth repeating here. When an agency such as the National Science Foundation commits funding to university research, it is investing in the economy of our nation, and in creating the next generation of scientists who will lead us to new levels of innovation and productivity.
Our economy faces a much more intense level of competition than we have in the last century. Short-changing our future won’t merely slow down our pace of advancement; indeed, it may allow other nations to surpass us. I only need point to the advances in stem cell research in South Korea to highlight the fact that when we stand still, the world does not.
Let me not overlook our most important asset, our investment
in human capital. The NSF supports the development of the next
of scientists and
engineers by supporting over 5,000 fellowships through its prestigious
programs. Excellent science can only be achieved if first-rate
are attracted to work in it. A continual influx of bright young
new ideas is
essential for the continuing vigor of the research enterprise.
And for the third straight year, NSF performance ranks at the top of Federal agencies in meeting the President’s Management Agenda.
Every day, we only need to open the morning paper to see that major advances in science are taking place. Back on my campus, and at universities across the country at this moment, researchers are developing medical therapies using the tools, ideas, and people the NSF has provided. We urge you to expand your longstanding commitment to building the scientific and technological infrastructure of our country by providing the NSF with an appropriation of $6.415 billion for the NSF in FY 2005, consistent with the passage of the NSF Authorization Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368).
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before you. I will be happy to answer any questions.