April 2010

Renewing America COMPETES

Infrastructure

According to senior officials from major research institutions, America’s competitiveness also is suffering because of declines in research infrastructure at universities.

“Our nation’s research universities are falling behind in their ability to provide the physical infrastructure” that is vital to research, said Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research at University of Arizona.

During the committee’s hearing on university infrastructure Feb. 23, U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., said universities are deferring $3.5 billion in needed renovations. Tolbert and other officials concurred, listing hundreds of millions in needed facility updates at each of their institutions and detailing their effects on research.

The NSF provides limited support for university infrastructure through programs like the Major Research Instrumentation program, but concern for an expanded federal role in providing for research infrastructure was expressed on both sides of the aisle.

Noting that the NSF’s expertise was in supporting peer-reviewed, basic research, U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., said that it was not clear that agencies like the NSF had the knowledge to judge proposals for specialized facilities.

Going Forward

Reauthorizing America COMPETES is the committee’s top legislative priority, and Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said he aims to pass the legislation through the House by Memorial Day. Using input from the witnesses at these and other hearings, “the new legislation is likely to include new programs and policy direction at NSF, NIST and other agencies relating to transformative research innovation, commercialization and manufacturing,” the committee said in a statement.

Kyle M. Brown (kmbrown@asbmb.org) is an ASBMB science policy fellow.

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