House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee members voiced support and concern on June 7 for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. At a hearing on the administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 NSF budget request, Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) affirmed his support for NSF and his wish to ensure that the U.S. continues to lead the world in fundamental research. He added that as subcommittee chair his job was to ensure that NSF is funded “appropriately” and that public money is wisely spent.
In his opening remarks, Ranking Member José Serrano (D-NY) noted the vital role that NSF plays in supporting science and engineering. He expressed his strong opposition to the 11 percent cut to NSF’s budget in the FY 2018 request, citing the severe adverse impacts it would have on both researchers and students, including a 50 percent reduction in the number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. He and Chairman Culberson both stated their agreement on the importance of fundamental research, and their desire to work in a bipartisan fashion in support of the Foundation.
The sole witness at the hearing, NSF Director France Córdova, PhD, emphasized the Foundation’s central mission to support basic research across scientific disciplines and to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. She also highlighted a few specific areas of NSF-funded research that may soon have transformative effects on society, including the application of artificial intelligence to transportation and the use of new manufacturing technologies on prosthetics and other areas of medicine.
During the question and answer portion of the hearing, members raised a number of issues pertaining to both specific NSF-funded programs and the overall budget for the agency. Chairman Culberson asked about the importance of long-term scientific projects, and spoke very highly of the new scientific frontiers in gravitational-wave astronomy enabled by NSF’s multi-decade investment in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). He also stated that growth of mandatory government spending and the national debt will continue to constrain the resources available for discretionary programs, including fundamental research.
Echoing the concerns about a reduced NSF budget raised by Ranking Member Serrano, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) directly asked Dr. Córdova if the proposed budget cuts were her idea. Presumably distancing her own views from her role as NSF director, she responded that NSF is part of the executive branch, and that this was the administration’s budget. She also emphasized that ultimately the budget of NSF is determined by Congress.
Other members of the subcommittee largely focused their comments and questions on scientific issues that affected their districts. For example, Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) emphasized the importance of geosciences research for the understanding and prediction of earthquakes, which pose a particular threat to the Pacific Northwest.