Congress scolds NSF on budget

Appropriators are disappointed with the agency's funding of basic science research

Congressional appropriators expressed their disappointment with the National Science Foundation's 2002 budget request Wednesday, saying that if the agency continues to be underfunded, the effects could be disastrous.

NSF's 2002 budget submission requests a 1.3 percent increase above fiscal 2001 to $4.47 billion. The largest increase in the agency's budget is for nanotechnology, which would be boosted 16 percent above this year.

Although the request also includes increases for interdisciplinary programs such as the Information Technology Research program and education programs such as the Partnership for Math and Science Education, funding for the agency's core disciplines would be relatively flat.

"I hope you don't spend a lot of energy defending a dead dog because I think this request is a dead dog," Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, told NSF Director Rita Colwell at a hearing of the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies Subcommittee. "To increase [the National Institutes of Health] by 15 percent while this agency gets cut demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of science work. NIH wouldn't be announcing its findings if it weren't for basic science."

The subcommittee does not yet know how much money will be allocated to fund NSF, NASA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, NIH, the Environmental Protection Agency and other small agencies. But Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.), subcommittee chairman, said he has already started efforts to secure sufficient funding for research.

"This budget submission, particularly in the areas of research and related activities, is wholly deficient," Walsh said. "It sends the wrong message."

Colwell defended the need for the newer programs at NSF to help the agency be a pace-setter for other agencies and industry, but also acknowledged the importance of basic research.

"In interdisciplinary areas like information technology - it really infuses all core disciplines," Colwell said. "Our investment in computer science and computational science use all sciences.. These are clearly directions that are necessary for the advancement of science."

Eamon Kelly, chairman of the National Science Board, which approved and supports the NSF budget, said that although there is an imbalance in funding for basic science, investments in areas like nanotechnology are critical because the area will become more competitive.

Obey questioned why NSF needs to cut from core programs in order to fund new priorities.

"At a time of surplus, putting tax cuts of more than $7,000 a person ahead of long-term science research that will lead to advancements in health, transportation. is I think short-sighted," Obey said.

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