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Congressional Hearings on Proposals for Fiscal Year 2006 Budget

The various committees of Congress are holding hearings and conducting their research and evaluation of the proposals for the Fiscal Year 2006 federal budget. The National Science Foundation this year has been moved to the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Science, which puts it in an environment very different from that of previous years. Instead of being "marked up" alongside (and in a sense in competition with) the Veteran's Administration, HUD, and other independent agencies. Now NSF is being considered alongside other science-related offices, such as the Office of Science for the Dept. of Energy. The committee members are thus considering NSF's research, and its education as well, in the light of overall science policy.

The committee is concerned that non-defense science R&D and education are not getting sufficient resources, and they come to this with a solid understanding of the dynamics of the science workforce, as well as opinions about urgent areas for research. Therefore, they are vocal in their belief that the proposed NSF budget is inadequate both for R&D and on the education side. This concern is shared by both Republicans and Democrats. At a recent hearing, for example, the committee chair, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said:

"There are also some grace notes in the otherwise dirge-like tone of the budget. The National Science Foundation (NSF) gets one of the largest increases in the budget, although not enough to keep pace with inflation...increase. But this budget is also a glass half empty....NSF education programs would be cut by 12 percent - about as misguided a policy as one could imagine. I should say Congress tried going down this foolhardy path with regard to NSF in the early 1980s and quickly reversed course. And perhaps most disturbingly of all, the outlook for the outyears seems to be more of the same.... I think we have to think long and hard about whether it is in the long-term interest of the United States to have a multi-year period of real dollar cuts in spending on R&D. And we also have to think more clearly about what our priorities are in a period of restrained growth... I understand that each of [today's] witnesses has devoted large portions of their careers to creating a healthy, effective federal science establishment. It's our job to help them get more "wallet" to go with their "will" - to hearken back to a phrase from the first President Bush."

In Senate hearings at about the same time, Chairman Christopher Bond (R-MO) emphasized NSF's importance to the economic, scientific, and intellectual growth of the U.S.:

"Our country's future resides in our ability to lead the world in science and technology, especially in the global marketplace. NSF is one of our primary tools in meeting the global challenges of the 21st Century by pushing the boundaries of scientific research and technology." He mentioned concerns regarding NSF's overall funding level, the disparity between federal support for life and for physical sciences, and cuts to NSF's education portfolio.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of science-minded senators and representatives who are part of the new STEM Ed Caucus ( are circulating "Dear Colleague" letters on behalf of various facets of science education, including the MSPs. As reported in NSTA Express for 3/21/05,

" Representatives Ehlers (R-MI), Udall (D-CO), Holt (D-NJ) and Biggert (R-IL) are sending a letter asking for $200 million for the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $400 million for the Department of Education (ED) Math and Science Partnership Program. In the Senate, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is seeking $269 million for the ED MSPs. Also in the Senate, Senators Rockefeller, Coleman, and Durbin are seeking $200 million for the NSF MSPs.

The emergence of strong, well-informed voices in the Congress on behalf of science and math education is an exciting development, and adds a new, constructive element to the policy and budget debates.