Congress agrees to boost NSF funding

Both sides of Congress have agreed to elevate funding for the National Science Foundation in fiscal 2006 by more than 3 percent.

This is a significant bit of cash for the agency responsible for backing much of the country's information technology research and development.

The appropriations bill for the Commerce and Justice departments, and science and related agencies, filed by conference committee Nov. 4, grants the NSF $5.7 billion, a nearly 1 percent increase compared with President Bush’s request and $180 million more than last year’s appropriations. Research and related activities would get $4.4 billion, which is 4 percent more than the agency received in fiscal 2005 and 1.2 percent more than the President's request.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said he voted to increase funding because the country is falling behind in math, physics, engineering and other scientific areas.

“That was one of my highest priorities when we went into committee,” he said today.

To combat what he sees as a growing research and innovation deficit, Wolf has also secured funding for a National Conference on Science, Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing in December. He said he wants the innovation summit to re-create a Sputnik moment that will energize the nation.

High-tech industry leaders have warned that federal spending trends indicate the Bush administration's declining interest in IT research. They are worried that U.S. jobs and national competitiveness will suffer if the federal government fails to support IT research that is not directly related to national defense or homeland security.

Now, lawmakers and industry leaders at the innovation summit will try to reach a consensus on dealing with what they view as an R&D deficit that could weaken the U.S. economy. A related issue of IT outsourcing is likely to be another focus of the summit.

Friday's allotment to NSF will also support a novel initiative within the agency.

NSF officials recently announced a research program devoted to constructing a new Internet. The agency that created the earliest version of the Internet, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, used to focus on computer science research. But lately it has shifted many of its resources to advanced weapons systems development. NSF is shouldering more responsibility for basic network research.

The likelihood that the fiscal 2006 NSF numbers are signed into law untouched is strong, Wolf's legislative aides said.

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