DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
before the Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives
January 6, 1995
Mr. Chairman, Congressman Brown, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's hearing. A hearing on the future, with a specific focus on the role that science and technology will play in that future, seems a particularly appropriate way to begin a new Congress and the new year. I am especially pleased to be participating in this hearing with my colleagues from the other agencies because we all work together as part of the Administration's science and technology team.
Clues to the future can often be found in an examination of the past, and my testimony this morning will begin with a brief summary of the evolution of NSF's role in the support of research and education over the past 45 years. It is important to appreciate that in carrying out this role, NSF helps support the underlying research enterprise that the various Federal agencies and industry draw upon to accomplish their objectives. NSF represents only about 3 percent of all Federal R&D expenditures, however we support almost half (48%) of the nation's non-medical basic research conducted at academic institutions and we provide 30 percent of the Federal support for math and science education.
In my testimony this morning I will provide a brief historical overview of the Foundation followed by some remarks on how changes in recent years have affected NSF and how our strategic planning process is preparing us for the challenges we face.
NSF in a Changing World
The mission and purpose of NSF is succinctly stated in the opening of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, which states that the agency is established:
To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense ....
Over the years NSF has supported these goals by seeking out and supporting research based on the best ideas from the most qualified people -- as judged by experts in their respective fields -- and by nurturing the nation's future scientific and technical leaders. The majority of our research support has gone, and continues to go, to individual investigators and small groups of researchers. Approximately 60 percent of the total research support is designated for individual investigators or small group research projects.
But other methods for supporting research and education activities have also been developed, including the establishment of national research facilities such as astronomical observatories, particle accelerators, and supercomputing centers. We have also supported research through center-based activities such as Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers, Engineering Research Centers, Science and Technology Centers, Materials Research Laboratories, Long-Term Ecological Research Centers, and Minority Research Centers of Excellence. Our center-based research provides a setting for cross- disciplinary activities as well as an opportunity for students to broaden their research horizons and industrial partners to interact with first-rate academic researchers. Industrial participation comes in many ways -- monetary support, advisory activities, and help in identifying problems that cannot be solved without a better understanding of fundamental scientific and engineering relationships. The centralized mode of support is strictly reserved for those activities that cannot be carried out efficiently by independent investigators or small groups.
Through our Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCOR), the Foundation has helped develop the academic research capabilities of states which, historically, have been less competitive than most others in obtaining federal research funding.
Similarly, we have introduced new approaches to improving mathematics, science, engineering, and technology education, most recently by supporting systemic reform at the state, city, and regional level rather than relying on piecemeal changes within a single subject matter or individual school.
As part of the National Performance Review activities, NSF is also providing government-wide leadership in the application of technology to the receipt and processing of proposals and the management of Federal research and education awards. We have centralized geographically scattered activities into a "smart" facility to reduce operating costs and we have implemented a program of continuous improvement of our operations.
These innovative collective approaches for supporting research and education have come about because the research and education communities have identified challenging and important scientific opportunities that simply go beyond what can be tackled by an individual investigator working alone. The growth in support of more integrated research and education activities in such "strategic" areas as high performance computing and communications, advanced manufacturing technology, global change and environmental research, advanced materials and processing, biotechnology, and science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education also reflects the benefits of multidisciplinary approaches to problems.
Let me give you an example. Developing an understanding of the principles underlying the performance of very large scale computers draws on expertise in areas as diverse as mathematics, electronics, engineering, human factors, cognitive science, and materials, to name just a few. To. go a step further, using supercomputers to help understand complex scientific problems such as weather forecasting or the design and synthesis of new materials brings together scientists and engineers from even more disparate backgrounds .
An illustration of the convergence of knowledge that is needed to understand a complex phenomenon occurred in a rapid change in 1982, when the temperature of the sea surface along the coast of Peru rose 4 degrees Centigrade (7" F) in 24 hours, an astounding rate of increase for tropical Pacific waters. Over the next six months, regions of Peru that are normally dry received up to 3 meters (10 feet) of rain. The Peruvian fishery, one of world's richest, nearly collapsed. At the same time Eastern Australia suffered the worst drought in its history and French Polynesia, an area that had not seen a typhoon in 75 years, was hit six times in five months.
Global losses attributed to this change in global weather patterns were in excess of $8 billion and 1500 deaths. Efforts to understand and possibly predict this weather cycle involved oceanographers, atmospheric scientists, climate modelers, and software specialists, among others. Research supported by four Federal agencies -- NSF, NOAA, NASA and ONR -- has already produced models useful for predictions in forecasting oscillations in the El Nino. The results of this ongoing work are being used for economic and environmental planning in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, India, China, and Ethiopia.
NSF has developed a framework that stimulates researchers to consider their work in a larger context, both as a way of encouraging the types of interdisciplinary efforts that occur on the frontiers of science, and as a way of supporting research in areas that relate to national concerns.
Many of these approaches to supporting research and education might seem exotic to those who first conceptualized NSF. Nevertheless, I think that our current efforts would meet with their strong approval. They would certainly recognize that advances in research and education open new possibilities for innovative programs. They would also appreciate that unless we encourage researchers to stretch themselves and take risks, we will miss the major discoveries that revolutionize science. And I am confident that they would agree that along with a commitment to excellence, NSF must continue to provide the leadership necessary to promote the advancement of science to meet the nation's most critical needs in an ever changing world.
Recently the leadership role of the U.S. in science and technology has been put to new tests. Over the last five years, commencing with the fall of the Berlin Wall, America has been adjusting to a new world position and defining a new national direction. This hearing and the work of this Committee is an important part of this process. These next few years are a period of transition in which our nation has the opportunity to build on past successes in science and technology while embracing new goals and perspectives.
NSF support of research focuses almost exclusively on answers to fundamental questions that defy our ability to predict the outcomes. Still, it is important to recognize that taxpayer-funded fundamental research can and should have a conscious relationship to the nation's priorities and societal needs. This does not mean a narrowly directed agenda of targeted research, but rather, a program of fundamental science and engineering that clearly is in and for the national interest, in its most comprehensive interpretation. I believe that in order to assess the quality and effectiveness of this program, we must actively involve the research community in helping to set national scientific goals and identifying special areas of opportunity.
It was fifty years ago that Vannevar Bush set a course for American science and engineering in his small but powerful treatise, Science, the Endless Frontier. That fifty year period took us through the Cold War and has given us a solid foundation for providing a better quality of life in the post-Cold War era. The promise of NSF that Bush foresaw is being fulfilled today.
Goals for the Future
Science, as we all know, is not about the future -- it is the future. !t is the quest for new understandings and new ways of doing things. It solves old problems and sometimes uncovers new ones. While we cannot forecast where and when discoveries will be made, research in science and engineering provides a process and a perspective which historically has produced new knowledge that has proven to be vital and diversely useful for the future.
NSF will continue to play a pivotal role to play here. Our recently completed strategic plan, entitled NSF in a Changing World, sets the following long-range goals:
First, enable the U.S. to uphold a position of world leadership in all aspects of science, mathematics, and engineering;
Second, promote the discovery, integration, dissemination, and employment of new knowledge in service to society; and
Third, achieve excellence in U.S. science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education at all levels.
The first goal, upholding a position of world leadership in areas of research across the board, is a capstone goal, one that is necessary for giving the nation the broadest range of options in determining our economic future and providing for our national security and the well- being of all Americans.
The second goal notes the science community's responsibility for disseminating the results of research, for showing how it is connected to both ordinary and extraordinary concerns and how it can be put to use for the public good.
Progress toward these first two goals -- world leadership and knowledge in service to society -- requires a technologically literate public. In addition, I believe the need for excellence in science, mathematics, engineering and technology education at every level will only grow in the coming years. Science education in our schools should strive to make students not only science conversant but also science participatory. If there is any sure-fire way to integrate science into society it is to build science confidence in young people through their own experimentation, analysis, and questioning. Over the years, and in a bipartisan fashion, this Committee has been instrumental in providing strong support for our science and engineering education programs at the precollege, undergraduate, and graduate levels.
Core Strategies and Values
The Foundation's strategic plan also provides a set of core strategies that will guide our progress toward these goals. These strategies reaffirm the Foundation's traditional support of merit reviewed, investigator initiated proposals. But they also recognize that in the future, as in the past, NSF will develop, change, and invent new methods to keep up with the needs of the research community and the country.
The first strategy is the development of intellectual capital. This has been a core mission and core value of the NSF since its inception. From my own point of view as a working scientist for many years, I believe that NSF has done this job exceptionally well. Our goal at the Foundation is to do it even better. In particular, we can improve our efforts by broadening the base to include more women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities as active participants in science, engineering, and technology fields. We can also encourage universities and colleges to consider changes in their curricula and degree programs to better prepare their graduates for a wide range of career options.
The second strategy is to strengthen the physical infrastructure. Although we have an outstanding research infrastructure in many respects, there is a continual need to modernize facilities and instruments, to set priorities for the next generation of instruments, and to optimize the use of our existing infrastructure. Out of researchers' efforts to carry out more accurate measurements under unusual conditions often come new technologies important to industry and other applications.
The third strategy is to integrate research and education. Too often we fail to capitalize on the natural connections between the process of education and that of discovery, just as we fail to recognize the complex interdependence of fundamental science and its uses and applications.
The fourth strategy for implementing our goals is to promote partnerships. NSF has been effective in developing successful partnerships over the years, These have included collaborative efforts with the academic community, with industry, with elementary and secondary schools, with state and local governments, and perhaps most significantly given this hearing, with other-Federal agencies. For example, NSF has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Institute for Standards and Technology to coordinate research in the areas of materials, chemical science and engineering, and manufacturing. Each partner brings its unique expertise to this arrangement -- NSF has strong ties with the academic research community and a tradition of supporting discovery. NIST has connections with the private sector and experience in responding to the needs of industry.
Our approach to these partnerships has emphasized shared investments, shared risks, and shared benefits. Our partnerships have also taught us about the complex relationships that exist among research, education, technology, industry, and other government programs. They have allowed us to coordinate our programs and share our strengths. We have formal agreements to coordinate and collaborate with virtually every agency involved in research activities. In this regard, I would point to the National Science and Technology Council as a place where agencies can work together to establish research priorities, foster partnerships, develop and facilitate cooperation, and avoid duplication.
One of the most important lessons we have learned comes from NSF's partnerships with industry. These have taught us that industry recognizes the need to create new knowledge, even in esoteric areas, and that the new knowledge almost always stimulates new ways of thinking about existing technology. For example, research on the fundamental nature of fluids passing through small openings involves a host of problems related to pressure, viscosity, flow rates, particle deflection, and dispersal patterns. The industrial partner at Engineering Research Center at Purdue University initially most interested in this line of research was involved in spray painting. But perhaps the biggest benefactor the research was Cummins, a company that makes diesel engines, because the same fundamental principles are important for fuel injection systems. Not only was Cummins able to use this research to improve their own engines, they used it to develop fuel injection systems that overseas engine manufacturers use. This is the kind of interaction that can result when you make the kinds of people-to-people connections that our programs encourage.
The eminent scholar, Donald Stokes, in his work-in-progress entitled Pasteur's Quadrant, writes "The annals of research so often record scientific advances simultaneously driven by the quest for both understanding and use, that we are increasingly led to ask how it came to be so widely believed that these goals are inevitably in tension and that the categories of basic and applied science are radically separated." The title of Stokes' work comes from the example of the French scientist Pasteur, who, as we all know, was influenced by public health and commercial goals throughout his stellar career in microbiology.
To my mind, the question is not, where the dividing lines are between science and technology, or between basic and applied research, but rather how do we take better advantage of the interrelationships in order for the nation to reap the full benefits of its integrated investment in science and technology? This is a question that all of us -- the Federal R& D agencies, Congress, this Committee, and the public we serve must address.
Related to this theme of integration is the idea that the research community has often lived an independent and somewhat isolated existence within American society. This position has historical roots that are no longer either applicable or valuable to our current goals. Informed debate on public policy, high value jobs, competition in global markets, and the education of current and future generations require that science and engineering become a more integral part of our national fabric. And the research community needs to participate in this debate.
Let me just conclude by noting that if you were to ask me to speculate on where fundamental research in science and engineering might take us in twenty years, I would not be engaging in false modesty in saying: I really can't imagine. But at the same time I do have complete confidence that wherever research takes us in the coming decades we will look back at the investments that we are making today and see them as well worth every sacrifice they may have required.
The future that Vannevar Bush could have imagined at the close of World War II probably did not include personal computers, recombinant DNA, the Internet or decades of national policy being driven by the Cold War. Yet his vision has served us well because he recognized the value of government support of a healthy science and engineering research and education enterprise. In our efforts to keep pace with a changing world NSF has identified strategies to sustain Bush's vision into the next century. I am confident that by developing our intellectual capital and physical infrastructure, integrating research and education, and stressing the concept of partnerships, NSF will continue to play a significant role in helping meet the nation's needs into the future.
Mr. Chairman, NSF appreciates the strong support that you, Congressman Brown and other members of the Committee have provided us over the years. We have also grown increasingly aware of the need to develop better procedures to set priorities and evaluate our programs in ways that inspire the continued confidence of the Committee, the Congress, and the public. In this regard, NSF is continuing With a planning process that will help us to set realistic goals and measure our progress toward meeting those goals. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Science Committee to ensure that we get the best possible return to the nation for its investment in NSF.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this hearing and I will be happy to answer any questions you or your colleagues may have.