F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society 
July 2007 
Vol. 36, No. 3



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Concerns Voiced Over Future of Space Science Programs

"It is both ‘the best of times and the worst of times' for NASA's space science programs. We have witnessed a whole series of exciting events in recent months…. The bad news is that while those accomplishments were enabled by the nation's past investments in NASA's science activities, the outlook for the needed future investments is not good if present trends are any indication." — House S&T Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chair Mark Udall (D-CO)

The dichotomy between the plethora of exciting scientific results today and a possible dearth of results in the future, if current budget trends continue, was the subject of a May 2 hearing of the House S&T Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Scientists representing several space science disciplines warned that NASA's FY 2008 budget request and future funding plans will be detrimental to its science programs. They particularly decried cuts to Research and Analysis (R&A) funding and to suborbital, small- and medium-sized science missions that provide a career path for young investigators. The hearing, which focused on space science programs within NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), also highlighted concerns over the increasing costs of access to space, the upcoming elimination of an important launch vehicle for smaller missions, poor historical estimates of mission costs, and the burden of oversight and risk reduction. Life and microgravity science programs were not discussed, nor was earth science, which will be the topic of a forthcoming subcommittee hearing.

NASA's fiscal year 2008 request for its space science programs is $4.0 billion, with $1.4 billion for Planetary Science, $1.1 billion for Heliophysics,and $1.6 billion for Astrophysics. According to subcommittee chairman Mark Udall (D-CO), the Administration has cut another $4 billion over five years from the Science Mission Directorate's funding profile, compared to its intentions at the time President Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration. Ranking Minority Member Ken Calvert (R-CA) pointed out that "severe budget challenges "facing NASA's human space flight program forced the agency to "remove future budget growth" from its science programs "in order to address more pressing needs." The Administration plans to restrict budget growth for NASA science programs to one percent per year over the next few years, which is an effective reduction given inflation and growing launch costs (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/016.html for details of the FY 2008 request). Several of the witnesses expressed disappointment that NASA science was not included in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, which calls for increased funding for basic research in certain physical sciences areas.

In their prepared statements, the four non-NASA witnesses gave notably similar assessments of the health of their fields. "For each of the disciplines in SMD, there is a sobering downward trend in missions," said Lennard Fisk of the University of Michigan, and Chair of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board. Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, stated, "If one takes a near-term view…the mission mix in Astrophysics looks fairly good…. [But] the new mission pipeline is strikingly empty beyond 2009. "Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder, added, "At present, the Heliophysics Division…has a number of exciting projects… Beyond this good news, however, there are significant concerns." "The reason why we aren't all celebrating," said Joseph Burns of Cornell University, "is because, while America's planetary exploration program is indeed doing well currently, its future is quite uncertain." Burns went on to point out that "at present no planetary flagship mission is in development, an unprecedented situation."

Testifying before the subcommittee for the first time as NASA's Associate Administrator for SMD was Alan Stern. Stern brings to the position a background in astrophysics and planetary science, and experience as a principal investigator on NASA science missions. He was lauded by the other witnesses as an excellent choice for the role. Stern said that one of his first actions in his new position was to establish an SMD Office of Chief Scientist "to provide independent technical analysis and advice" regarding science issues. His statement highlighted the role of science in the Vision for Space Exploration: "I am an enthusiastic advocate of human exploration and believe that a strong science program…is important to maximizing the benefits to the Nation of such human exploration." Stern's top goals for the next five years include making "strong progress" in advancing the priorities of the decadal surveys for each discipline; improving management and efficiency to free up more money for science missions; and increasing the scientific yield of the Vision for Space Exploration. "I am committed," he stated, to "bringing to NASA and the Congress the best possible slate of programs and program success within the significant resources already available."

Stern's concerns aligned with those expressed by the other witnesses. All worried about rising launch costs, inadequate mission cost-estimation procedures, and the need to increase support for R&A and maintain a mix of small- and medium-sized missions. They agreed that small, inexpensive projects such as those utilizing balloons, sounding rockets, or aircraft were invaluable for preparing NASA's future workforce, ensuring that young scientists and engineers get hands-on experience. Illingworth remarked that R&A was "a grab bag" of many elements, including theory, technology development, workforce training and data analysis. Asked whether a certain percentage of a project budget was appropriate for R&A, the witnesses replied that it was discipline-dependent. Baker pointed out that the Science Mission Directorate plans to undertake a systematic review of this issue.

Illingworth also testified that, in the past, mission cost estimates were often "unrealistic and incomplete," leading to "a gap between what we wanted to do and what we can do." He said this concern has been recognized by both the agency and the science community. Stern commented that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has instituted new policies requiring higher confidence levels for project costs, and allowing principal investigators to be removed from heading missions if cost growth gets out of control. Stern also suggested that principal investigators consider reducing their research and teaching workloads during the critical stages of mission development. Baker pointed out that launch costs could increase dramatically when Boeing phases out its Delta II launch vehicle. The panelists agreed that NASA needs to find a way to maintain such a critical payload launch capability. They also suggested that the bureaucratic overhead involved in mission risk reduction, while appropriate to manned missions, was perhaps unnecessary for unmanned missions and led to additional cost growth.

In response to Stern's contention that available funding could be leveraged and stretched further by increasing international collaborations, the other witnesses raised the issue of ITAR export control regulations. Burns said they "hamstring "collaborations, Baker said they were "inappropriately stifling," and Fisk called them "a nightmare" and "probably the single biggest impediment" to international space science collaborations.

Udall captured the sense of the hearing when he said, "at the end of the day… if we are going to ask our nation's space science program to undertake challenging and meaningful initiatives, we are going to need to provide the necessary resources." He and full Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) sent an April 19 letter to the President, outlining concerns "about the mismatch between the resources being provided to [NASA] and the tasks that it is being asked to undertake." They continued, "We echo the views of other members of Congress who have expressed their interest in meeting with you on this important matter, and we hope that there will be the opportunity for all of us to meet with you in the near future to discuss how best to realize our common goals."

FYI #47
Audrey Leath.
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

OSTP Director John Marburger on Science Policy and Budget Issues

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Marburger addressed the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy in early May.  This was Marburger's sixth consecutive address to this annual forum. Selections from his remarks follow on policy issues, earmarking, the outlook for funding, the impacts of the doubling of the NIH budget, and new sources of funding for university-based research.

Science Community Consensus on Policy Issues:

"Ultimately the science posture of a nation expresses itself in the myriad activities of its scientists and engineers, students and technicians — activities that may or may not sum to a coherent or effective whole. No law of nature or of politics guarantees that this real-life science posture will reflect a sensible science policy. The only hope of coherence in our national science posture is for all the diverse actors to agree on a general direction and give it priority year after year.

"Such a consensus has been achieved on some important science policy issues during the past six years. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the science community came together in are remarkable show of unity to support what would obviously be a difficult and protracted struggle against terrorism."

Citing his previous speeches, Marburger stated: "I also raised and reinforced concerns about the negative impacts of security measure son the conduct of science, and reported on actions OSTP and relevant departments and agencies were taking to mitigate these impacts. This is a continuing area of concern that deserves constant attention from the science community. While the student visa situation is much improved, we still have serious policy challenges ahead, including concerns about a cumbersome and graceless visa process for visiting scientists, implementation of the export control regime, potential over-regulation of dual-use bioscience, and security arrangements that stifle user programs at key national laboratories.

"The good news is that there IS a consensus among nearly all actors that these are problems that need to be addressed. The danger is that with time the salience of these issues will diminish and momentum toward solutions will be lost." Marburger cited interagency committees and other organizations that have been working on issues such as biosecurity and export control regulations as laudable examples of how these issues are being resolved.

He continued: "Wide consensus also exists on the importance of federally funded science to our nation's long term economic competitiveness." After citing 'Rising Above the Gathering Storm,' Marburger commented: "Notable among its recommendations was increased funding for basic research in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering - areas that had stagnated while the budget for biomedical research soared. The report even recommended that investment in these areas should increase 'ideally through reallocation of existing funds, but if necessary via new funds. 'That statement is a rare recognition of the fact that federal funds for science are limited and that some programs may have to be held constant or reduced to fund priorities. The Administration's response to this consensus was the American Competitiveness Initiative [ACI], which among other things proposed doubling budgets for NSF, NIST and the Department of Energy's Office of Science over ten years."


After commenting on how FY 2007 funding in the Continuing Resolution (CR) was free of earmarks, Marburger looked ahead and remarked :"What happens next will be extremely interesting. If Congress permits earmarks in its FY08 appropriations bills, it will in effect be taking away the agency flexibility it granted in the Continuing Resolution, returning budgets the agencies can evaluate and use effectively to the base the President uses in his requests. President Bush has asked Congress to cut the total amount of earmarks in half. If Congress does that for the science budgets — without removing the associated funds it granted in the CR — it would be wonderful for science.

"What Congress decides to do here will signal its priorities for research. The ACI prioritizes basic research in key agencies that have been relatively under funded given the importance of the fields they support for long term economic competitiveness. Because two Congresses have now failed to fund the first year of ACI at the level the President has requested, it is now behind schedule. The Administration's FY08 request aims to catch up. The Administration continues to believe it is essential to rectify a long growing imbalance in the pattern of research funding affecting the prioritized agencies. Despite much good will toward the ACI, and recent actions on competitiveness bills by authorizing committees in both the House and the Senate, the fate of this important initiative remains in doubt. What these agencies need is appropriations for their underfunded basic research programs. They do not need new programs or new bureaucracy, new reporting requirements, or new constraints on how they use their funds, all of which are features of the authorization bills. My plea to Congress is that it protect the basic research aims of the ACI from suffocation under the weight of all these other trimmings — 20 new programs in the Senate bill alone."


"I believe we can do all the R&D we need to do, and very much of what we want to do, but I do not believe we can accomplish this the way we would like to do it, namely by simply appropriating more federal funds.

"Neither this Administration nor any future one can escape the urgent demands of 21st century realities. The struggle against terrorism is real and persistent. Climate change demands attention. Globalization is bringing the problems of countries around the world to our doorstep. And we have yet to address the looming crunch of entitlement programs in our own country—funded through the relentlessly expanding mandatory portion of the federal budget.

"All these demands impact the Domestic Discretionary Budget, which for decades has not grown as fast as the Gross Domestic Product. It is an empirical fact that the science share of the discretionary budget has remained practically constant over time, so of course its share of GDP has fallen too. Many science advocates, including probably most people in this audience, have used the resulting decline in ratio of federal research to GDP to argue for bigger federal science budgets. Because of the constraints on the discretionary budget, this argument will not be effective in the long run."


"Last October I gave a speech to the annual meeting of the Council on Governmental Relations in which I expressed my concern about the mismatch between research capacity and the federal resources to sustain it. I claimed that 'the universe of research universities has expanded to an economically significant size, by which I mean that the sum of financial decisions by its individual members has an impact on the resources available to any one of them. It is not quite a zero-sum game, but we have moved into a new operating regime where the limits of the "market" for research university services are being tested.' The doubling of the NIH budget that occurred, with everyone's blessing, over a five year period ending in 2003,was an experiment in the rapid expansion of a broad but still well-defined scientific field. The most obvious lesson from this rapid growth is that it could not be sustained. There is a deeper lesson.

"It is clear that the doubling has had a profound impact on the nation's biomedical research enterprise. It helps to think of this enterprise, and R&D activities generally, as a miniature economy with its own labor pool, markets, productive capacity, and business cycles. The response to the NIH doubling has been an abrupt increase in research capacity, financed not only by the direct  federal investment, but by state governments and private sector sponsors eager to leverage this investment, not least to enhance competitiveness for additional federal funds. We now have an enlarged biomedical R&D labor pool — a new generation of researchers — who are populating new expanded research facilities and writing federal grant proposals in competition with the previous still-productive generation of their faculty advisors. And they are training yet another generation of new researchers who hope to follow the same pattern. I cannot see how such an expansion can be sustained by the same business model that led to its creation. The new researchers will either find new ways to fund their work, or they will leave the field and seek jobs in other sectors of the economy. This sub-economy is unregulated, and we can expect it to experience booms and busts typical of unregulated markets.

"Under the stimulus of federal funding, research capacity as measured in terms of labor pool and facilities can easily expand much more rapidly than even the most optimistic projections of the growth rate of the federal research budget. New capacity can only be sustained by new revenue sources. In this connection it is noteworthy that the federal research budget is dwarfed by private sector research expenditures. Under the pressure of increased competition for federal funds research universities are in fact forging new relationships with private sponsors, and I expect this trend to continue…. The economics of university based research are beginning to change to a new model with diversified sources of revenue.

"Federal science policy should encourage this change. Not only will it enable an expanded research enterprise, it will also promote development of capacity in areas likely to produce economically relevant outcomes. Moreover, economists have documented a positive correlation between industrial research investment and national economic productivity, and to the extent this correlation indicates a causal relationship, increased industrial research will be good for the economy.

"The message here is that federal funding for science will not grow fast enough in the foreseeable future to keep up with the geometrically expanding research capacity, and that state and private sector resources should be considered more systematically in formulating federal science policy."

Marburger's entire address may be read at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/jhm%202007%20AAAS%20Policy%20Forum%20Final.pdf 

FYI #55
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3095


Federal, State Recommendations on STEM Education

A review of STEM education programs across the federal government finds that few programs have been rigorously evaluated and little is known about their impact on students. This report, by the Academic Competitiveness Council, recommends that funding for federal programs to improve STEM education outcomes "should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place. "Another report, released earlier this year by the National Governors Association, highlights the importance of STEM education to the nation's ability to innovate, and calls for greater efforts by states and the federal government, in partnership, to improve STEM instruction and data tracking across the nation.


In fiscal year 2006, the federal government supported 105 programs across 13 departments and agencies that focused on kindergarten through postgraduate STEM education, with an expenditure of $3.12 billion. Also in 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act called for the establishment of an Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC), comprising federal officials with responsibility for STEM education programs and chaired by the Secretary of Education. The Council was charged with identifying and reviewing all federal STEM education programs and their target populations; assessing their effectiveness; identifying areas of duplication; and making recommendations for greater integration and coordination. After a yearlong effort, on May 10, the ACC released its findings.

According to the report, the ACC developed goals and metrics in three areas: K-12 Education, Postsecondary Education, and Informal Education and Outreach. The ACC sought the help of a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to assess existing program evaluations. Of 115 evaluations of federal STEM education programs, the organization "found 10 impact evaluations that were scientifically rigorous, four of which concluded that the educational activity evaluated had a meaningful positive impact." The report finds that "despite decades of significant federal investment in science and math education, there is a general dearth of evidence of effective practices and activities." The report offers six recommendations:

  1. "The ACC program inventory and goals and metrics should be living resources, updated regularly and used to facilitate stronger interagency coordination."
  2. "Agencies and the federal government at large should foster knowledge of effective practices through improved evaluation and-or implementation of proven-effective, research-based instructional materials and methods."
  3. "Federal agencies should improve the coordination of their K-12STEM education programs with states and local school systems."
  4. "Federal agencies should adjust program designs and operations so that programs can be assessed and measurable results can be achieved, consistent with the programs' goals."
  5. "Funding for federal STEM education programs designed to improve STEM education outcomes should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place, appropriate to the types of activities funded."
  6. "Agencies with STEM education programs should collaborate on implementing ACC recommendations under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)."

In a press release on the report, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings urged Congress to "focus investments in programs that demonstrate measurable effects on student achievement or fill gap sin the large portfolio of existing programs." The 87-page "Report of the Academic Competitiveness Council" can be accessed at http://www.ed.gov/print/about/inits/ed/competitiveness/acc-mathscience/index.html.


The National Governors Association, chaired by Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, earlier this year issued an initiative entitled "Innovation America," describing what states, working in partnership with the federal government, can do to enhance education, workforce, and innovation capacity. "In the new global economy, states need a workforce with the knowledge and skills to compete," says the initiative. "A key to developing these skills is strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competencies in every K-12 student."

  1. "Innovation America" offers strategies for governors, and suggestions for federal assistance, in three areas: Improving K-12 STEM education; improving postsecondary education and workforce training; and encouraging regional private sector innovation. The initiative offers the following STEM education recommendations for governors, and includes examples of specific states that have implemented such strategies:
  2. "Align state K-12 STEM standards and assessments with postsecondary and workforce expectations for what high school graduates know and can do." States should participate in international assessments and align their standards and assessments with international benchmarks; align K-12 STEM expectations with all paths students might take after graduation; and align elementary, middle and high school STEM education "to create a coherent K-12system."
  3. "Examine and increase the state's internal capacity to improve teaching and learning." Statues should use international benchmarks to evaluate their capacity; improve K-16 data systems "to track the STEM preparation of students;" develop strategies to communicate to the public "the urgency of improving STEM;" develop or charge P-16 councils to spearhead alignments of the STEM education system; support "promising new models of recruiting, preparing, certifying, compensating, and evaluating teachers" in STEM fields; and "support extra learning opportunities" in STEM fields.
  4. "Identify best practices in STEM education and bring them to scale." States should support and expand the availability of specialized STEM schools; develop standards and assessments in technology and engineering as well as math and science; support development of high quality STEM curricula; and develop standards for Career and Technical Education programs.

The initiative also includes "Innovation America: A Partnership," which outlines complementary recommendations for what the federal government can do to assist, enhance and accelerate state actions in the areas of education, economic development, and workforce training. In the area of education, the initiative seeks federal support for: student tuition assistance for STEM and critical foreign language career paths; recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers; STEM education improvement grants; high school redesign enhancement; grants to Governors for P-16+ Councils and Data Systems; and international benchmarking. Further information on "Innovation America" can be found at <http://www.nga.org> on the left-hand side under "2006-2007 NGA Chair Gov. Janet Napolitano's Initiative".

FYI Number 56: May 25, 2007
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Web Version: http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/056.html
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094