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Former APS President Jerome Friedman, a Nobel laureate and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified before the House Science Subcommittee in early May in support of proposed legislation authorizing 15% increases in the budget of the National Science Foundation in each of the next three years.
H.R. 4664, currently known as the "Investing in American's Future Act", was authored by subcommittee chairman Nick Smith (R-MI), who said that part of the rationale behind the legislation was the subcommittee's concern that the NSF may be rejecting too many grant applications because of financial constraints. Increasing the NSF budget would allow it to increase the number, size and duration of research grants, and reduce the backlog of research facilities' upgrades, says Smith.
Friedman devoted much of his testimony to the issue of major research equipment and facilities construction. "The NSF currently does not provide the scientific community or Congress with a prioritized list of approved projects," he said, commenting on NSF's decision-making process for construction and operation of major facilities. "The lack of transparency has prevented orderly planning by the research community. As a result, science has suffered and international research partners have been left dangling." he cited the lack of an NSF funding request for the Rare Symmetry Violating Process project as an example, and recommended that NSF adopt a process similar to that outlined in the legislation. Friedman also described the large decline in students enrolled in physics since the 1960s, noted the corresponding reduction in physics research funding, and said that many students "felt they had no future" in physics.
Among other witnesses at the hearing was the dean of Tufts University's engineering department, Ionnis Miaoulis, who expressed concern that the nation's unbalanced R&D portfolio, with underfunding for the physical and engineering sciences in favor of the life sciences, "will in the long run have a detrimental effect on the life sciences," later declaring, "The nation's creative minds should spend more time focusing on their research and less time trying to get funding."
University of Maryland President C.D. Mote described the financial constraints facing principal investigators in need of hiring students to perform research, but expressed even greater concern over looming scientific manpower shortages. "[This] authorization bill will send a strong signal to the appropriators, the rest of the Congress, and the Administration, that support for the NSF is strong, it is bipartisan, and it is grounded in sound arguments," he said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, subcommittee members approved the bill and sent it to the full House Science Committee, which reviewed it the following week. However, the legislation has a long way to go. Smith predicted that "competition for money is going to become much more aggressive" in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and performance and results will therefore become more important in scientific research. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) said that Congress is facing difficult fiscal challenges, and that Congress reflects the will of the American people, whose priorities lean more towards national security, prescription drug coverage, and lower taxes. After passing the Research Subcommittee unanimously, and gaining the approval of the Science Committee, H.R. 4664 was passed by the full House of Representatives on June 5.
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