Today in a hearing to review the fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget requests at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Members commended a majority of the important research conducted at the agencies. However, Republicans raised issues in regard to prioritization and duplication of funding, particularly in light of the significant increases represented in the FY12 budget requests.
"There is no denying that both of these agencies make vital contributions to our Nation's competitiveness, and this Committee has a long, bipartisan record of support for these agencies and their contributions," said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). However, Hall said "Given the current economic realities, I am greatly concerned that we simply cannot afford to continue spending at these rates."
The FY12 budget request for NSF is $7.7 billion; an increase of 13 percent over the FY10 enacted level (not including any carryover from the $3 billion NSF received from Stimulus funding). The budget request for NIST is $1 billion; representing a 17 percent increase from the FY10 enacted level.
While recognizing that most NSF investments are for merit-based, peer-reviewed research, Republicans today questioned NSF Director Dr. Subra Suresh on instances of duplicative and unnecessary spending at the Foundation. One specific example of excessive spending that was discussed was a grant of $696,000 to a New York theater company for a production about climate change.
Members also questioned the prioritization of funding in the President's request. Chairman Hall said, "I remain very concerned that the Administration continues to place a greater emphasis on specific applied research areas at these agencies whose core missions are and should remain basic, fundamental research."
Along these lines, Republicans questioned whether NSF's portfolio intended to "spark innovations for tomorrow's clean energy sources with a cross-disciplinary approach to sustainability science," should be a funding priority. The FY12 budget request is $998 million for this effort, representing a 51 percent increase over the FY10 amount. Members noted that this is the type of research that is also being conducted at a number of other agencies, and questioned whether NSF was duplicating efforts.
Regarding NIST, Chairman Hall applauded the excellent work of the Agency in advancing American innovation. "They work alongside industry to make sure their activities improve the quality of life of Americans and the economic security of our nation," Hall said. "Although we may not be aware of NIST's impact on our lives, their work is making things run smoothly for us, from online security to health information technology."
Members also questioned NIST's roles in manufacturing industries, energy measurements and standards for health information technology.
The following witnesses testified today before the Committee:
Dr. Subra Suresh, Director, National Science Foundation
Dr. Ray Bowen, Chairman, National Science Board
Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, and Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology