The National Science Foundation (NSF) this week outlined a record budget request for fiscal year 2000 amounting to nearly $4 billion. The request includes a major focus on funding for bold, cutting-edge research efforts, both as the lead agency in the Administration's Information Technology for the Twenty-first Century (IT2) initiative, and for exploring the role of biocomplexity in the environment (BE).
President Clinton is calling for a 6.9-percent hike in NSF's research and related activities, and a 5.8-percent overall increase for the agency in the proposed new budget being sent to Congress today.
"The President's budget for NSF represents a solid investment in the nation's research and education enterprise. It will assist the nation in efforts to compete effectively in today's global marketplace while also adding to our understanding of the complex world in which we exist," Rita Colwell, NSF director, said.
Leading the multi-agency effort in the Administration's IT2 Initiative, NSF will increase investments by $146 million in new research and in much improved high-end computing capabilities. About $110 million is planned for fundamental IT research including: design and development of accessible, reliable, fault-tolerant software systems; human-computer interactions; information management; high-end computing, including advances in modeling and simulation; and other long-term research including socioeconomic and workforce impacts of IT. Another $36 million is planned to enhance the supercomputing infrastructure for the academic research and education communities.
Reasons for this major investment aren't difficult to find. Analysts estimate that the information technology industry already constitutes $700 billion of the total U.S. economy, and they say the industry has generated about a third of all U.S. economic growth over the past decade. Yet, prospects for sustained growth are open to question when it's realized that corporate R&D expenditures as a fraction of sales have dropped almost in half over a seven-year period (1989-96). In addition, there has been a detectable shift toward short-term, product-oriented developments in the IT industry as a whole. A recent report by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) called for a strong and sustained investment in fundamental IT research. In doing so, the report emphasized the sharp and growing contrast between reduced support provided for long-term research and the increased importance of IT to the overall U.S. economy.
In the new budget, NSF will also invest $50 million for research in biocomplexity as part of a broader emphasis on biocomplexity in the environment, an agency-wide coordinated activity in environmental science, engineering and education.
At the heart of BE is understanding the complex interdependencies among living organisms and the environments that affect, sustain, and are modified by them. Research will cover three overlapping and highly interactive areas within NSF -- Global and Environmental Change, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Dynamics, and Environment and the Human Dimension. Core research efforts will focus on the idea that research on individual components of environmental systems provides only limited information about their behavior as whole systems.
NSF continues to emphasize educating for the future. Among NSF's educational priorities is an investment in a National Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education digital library and related activities. This is a national resource facility to link K-16 schools, academic institutions, students, teachers and faculty to standards-based educational materials and learning tools. NSF will also move forward in its cooperative Education Research Initiative with the Department of Education. NSF will also continue innovative efforts to place undergraduate and graduate students in K-12 classrooms to assist teachers with content, while exposing and preparing the college students to the needs of K-12 education.
NSF will continue support for Arctic research programs, invest in upgrades to polar aircraft, continue substantial support to plant genome research and maintain its strong commitment to EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Also, NSF will invest $25 million for a new group of science and technology centers to explore interdisciplinary research problems and to support innovative efforts to integrate research and education.
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