March 2010

ASBMB Congressional Testimony on NSF

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was invited to provide a witness to testify on the administration’s 2011 budget proposal for the National Science Foundation before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science earlier this month. ASBMB had arranged for President Gregory Petsko to testify for the society. While the hearing was postponed due to the severe snowstorms that blanketed Washington, D.C., in early February, the testimony was submitted for inclusion in the hearing record. Here are excerpts. The full version is available on the ASBMB Web site.

“…we hope the Congress will view the president’s request as a floor, not as a ceiling, when considering funding levels…”

President Petsko: “I am honored to be here to express our strong support for the president’s request for the National Science Foundation for FY 2011. Because, in the overall budget, so many agencies and programs have received smaller increases than NSF’s— or none at all— we are encouraged that the administration continues to demonstrate that it understands how important science is as an underpinning for this country’s continued economic growth and prosperity. Nevertheless, we hope the Congress will view the president’s request as a floor, not as a ceiling, when considering funding levels for the agency in the coming months.

“ASBMB considers NSF to be one of the most underfunded agencies in the Federal government….

“We are, of course, very appreciative that the president has proposed an almost 8 percent increase, almost $500 million, bringing the NSF budget to $7.424 billion. However, in a perfect world, we would like to see the budget increased to $7.68 billion, to conform to the recommendation of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. This would allow funding for several programs we believe need additional support...

“…we are pleased that the BIO Directorate goes up almost as much as the agency overall, because certain programs within BIO are even more underfunded than the agency as a whole.

“The chemistry division of the Mathematics & Physical Sciences Directorate fares somewhat less well, with the president proposing less than a 6 percent increase there. We hope Congress can make sure that this division gets a bit more money when the agency budget is finalized.

“…the two areas where we consider it vital that adjustments be made are in education and human resources and major research instrumentation.

“The president is proposing only a 2.2 percent increase for education and human resources in 2011. I don’t need to go into the many reasons why science education is so important; these have been amply detailed in reports going back at least to the 1980s and “A Nation at Risk;” they have been most lately described in “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” It is sad that the problems so eloquently described in “A Nation at Risk” are still with us in large measure today. It is our hope that we, as a nation, can actually begin to provide a level of funding for science education that does justice to the eloquent titles of these reports. Speaking personally, I love doing research, but training the next generation of scientists is the most important thing I do.

“A second area where we have concern is the flat funding for the major research instrumentation program. Funding for advanced instrumentation in most universities is in serious trouble, as agencies struggle to maintain funding for research programs and cut back in other areas that are, unfortunately, exceptionally vital to a robust research enterprise. We hope Congress can address this problem as well.” 

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