NSF: The Gold Standard for Scientific Research Funding Throughout the World

By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
June 2013

What do the Internet, magnetic resonance imaging, Doppler radar, bar codes, genetic advancements, nanotechnology, and fiber optics have in common? The research that led to their development was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Congress established NSF in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense...” The taxpayers’ investments in NSF since 1950 have achieved all these goals to the great benefit of all Americans.

NSF currently funds research and education activities at more than 2,000 universities, colleges, K-12 schools, businesses, and other research institutions throughout the United States. Every grant, cooperative agreement, and contract approved by NSF undergoes a competitive merit review process. Merit review fosters the process of discovery, the means by which researchers can identify emerging challenges and innovative approaches for addressing them.  It is this process that has helped our country become the world leader in science. Grant support, the primary funding mechanism used by NSF, is provided through a peer-review process in which proposals are evaluated by both external experts and NSF program officers for how well they satisfy two main criteria: 1) intellectual merit; and 2) the broader impacts of the proposed research. Through the peer-review process, NSF ensures that proposals submitted are reviewed in-depth by experts in the relevant fields. NSF’s peer-review process is an effective and fair funding approach that has won praise from some of the toughest critics of government spending and is considered the “gold standard” for research funding throughout the world.

Although NSF’s research and development budget accounts for only about 4 percent of all federally funded research, the role of NSF in promoting fundamental research is vital to the nation’s scientific enterprise. This basic research, which is generally considered too risky to be undertaken by the private sector, provides the essential foundation for technology development and innovation. Economists have estimated that these technological advancements are responsible for at least half of the gains in gross domestic product since World War II. As the late Dr. Allan Bromley, science advisor to former President George H.W. Bush, put it, “No science, no surplus. It’s that simple.”

Though NSF is primarily known for its role in science and engineering research, NSF is the premier STEM education research organization in the country. For decades, NSF has been a leader in improving our collective understanding of how students learn, and how we can develop the most effective and inspiring curriculum and train the most effective and inspiring teachers. This isn’t about the federal government taking over curriculum or teacher certification. It is about researchers contributing their deep expertise to making sure our teachers are well prepared and our students are really learning. We need to ensure that the U.S. continues to produce the world’s best scientists, mathematicians, and engineers and to make sure that every student is prepared for the highly technical, high-paying jobs of the future. 

The unique role NSF plays in supporting research with yet unknown applications across all fields of science and engineering has had a profound impact on the course of this country. I can think of no better example of this fact than Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s prototype Internet search engine, PageRank, which arose directly from their NSF-funded work. PageRank is still used in their search engine service, now known as Google. Today, Google has over 50,000 employees and is worth over $100 billion.

man in MRI


fiber optics

The MRI, barcode and fiber optics (top to bottom) are a few of the myriad innovations that developed as a result of NSF’s support of basic scientific research.

I hate to think of all the discoveries that would not have been made without NSF. Its mission, vision and goals are designed to maintain and strengthen the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise and to ensure that Americans benefit fully from all of the activities that NSF supports. As Congress moves to reauthorize NSF this year, I intend to continue to remind Members of the important role NSF plays in our national R&D enterprise. It is truly a national treasure.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is serving her 11th term representing the 30th Congressional District of Texas. The 30th District is entirely within Dallas County and encompasses a large portion of the City of Dallas as well as the entire cities of DeSoto, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins, and Balch Springs. Portions of the cities of Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Glenn Heights, Ferris, and Ovilla are also in the district. 

In December 2010, Congresswoman Johnson was elected as the first African-American and the first female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. From 2000 to 2002, she was the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education where she emphasized education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.

Congresswoman Johnson has been a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since being sworn into office in January 1993. In 2007, she was appointed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) to serve as Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment during the 110th and 111th Congresses.  She has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as the highest ranking Texan. She has also served on the Subcommittee on Aviation, the Subcommittee on Railroad, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. She was the first African-American and female in Congress to hold this position of Subcommittee Chair.

She is Founder and Co-Chair of the Diversity and Innovation Caucus and of the House Historical Black Colleges and Universities Caucus. In addition, Congresswoman Johnson served as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 107th Congress. Congresswoman Johnson presently serves on the Aviation Subcommittee, Highways and Transit Subcommittee and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.

Rep Eddie B. Johnson

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson