WASHINGTON Industry groups are praising a legislative proposal to double the budget over the next three years for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds engineering and computer research.
Lawmakers have been debating research priorities since the Bush administration proposed doubling fiscal 2003 funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Observers said the House wants to bring research spending back in line by balancing funding for medical and technology research.
The NSF spending bill introduced Tuesday (May 7) by members of the House Science Committee would authorize a 15 percent increase for the science agency in each of the next three years. The annual increase works out to $540 million, and would be used for research on networking, "nanoscale science and engineering" and research instrumentation, the committee said.
Meanwhile, comparing the budgets for medical and science research, Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-NY, said, "Congress has quite properly committed to doubling the budget of [NIH], and I hope and expect we will complete that doubling this year as the president has requested."
"But NIH does not and cannot fund the full range of research activities the nation needs to remain prosperous and healthy. NSF has the broadest research mission of any federal science agency and the clearest educational mission. It needs the funding that goes with that expansive and expensive mandate," Boehlert said.
Along with education funding, the proposal would also add $14 million in 2003 for research equipment and laboratory construction projects. Funding for the category would increase by 48 percent in 2004 and 27 percent in 2005, the committee said.
The combined increases would put NSF's budget on track to double in three years.
Groups like the Washington-based IEEE-USA lobbied Congress to boost NSF funding. "These funding increases would help NSF address new challenges, including information technology, nanotechnology and homeland security, and could help offset the recent declines in Defense Department support for electrical and electronics-related research at universities," said Ralph Wyndrum, IEEE-USA vice president for technology policy.
Backers also said the increase would restore the balance to federal funding of engineering and the physical sciences, which they said has fallen behind U.S. investment in medical research.
The Bush administration's initial funding request for NSF was just over $5 billion for fiscal 2003, a five percent increase. NSF Director Rita Colwell told Congress in February that the request included $221 million for nanotechnology research and $286 million for IT research. Those totals could increase under the new spending plan.
Established in 1950, NSF supports 46 percent of the basic research in engineering conducted at U.S. universities, and helps train more than 25,000 graduate students a year.