WHAT'S NEW, Friday, 4 August 1989 Washington, DC

It has been nearly four years since the Packard-Bromley report, "A Renewed Partnership," articulated the goal of doubling the NSF budget in a few years. Both the Reagan and Bush Administrations endorsed a five-year goal, but a Congress beset with growing deficits has consistently declined to make the annual investment of 14% above inflation. It now appears that FY 90 will be no different. The appropriation bill recently passed by the House increases NSF only 6%--a twelve year doubling rate assuming zero inflation. Moreover, the House voted to remove a prohibition against using NSF funds for a program of University Facilities Modernization. This is ominous. The facilities program had been authorized, but not funded, and the prohibition was needed to protect the already anemic NSF budget from pork-barrel raiders.

Can the Senate be expected to help? The prospects are bleak. For one thing, the allocation for the Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for NSF is about $500M short of its expectations. They had counted on advancing the pay dates of some agencies to make them fall in FY 89, thus generating a paper savings in FY 90. Alas, the leadership disallowed the scheme. However, Congress departs today for the summer break, and the Senate will not act on the NSF appropriation until it reconvenes after Labor Day. This offers a brief reprieve, during which the science and technology community can endeavor to make the Senate aware of the importance of the NSF to our national goals. Most senators are under the impression that the NSF has fared comparatively well in these Gramm-Rudman years. They will point out that even though the NSF budget is not on track for doubling in five years, annual increases have exceeded inflation. In this period, however, the Foundation has assumed responsibility for new programs in science education, and established a number of centers in engineering and science. Moreover, there has been a phenomenal world-wide growth in areas of science and engineering linked to new technologies. The continued inability of the NSF to keep pace with this growth jeopardizes the leadership of the US in these critical areas.

The consequences are palpable. Renowned scientists devote an ever greater fraction of their energies to a search for research support, rather than to the pursuit of knowledge. Promising young faculty find themselves excluded by a system that cannot support new starts in research. Witnessing this, the brightest youth of our nation increasingly turn away from academic careers. The training of the next generation of scientists is at risk.

This is not the time to plead for particular projects, but it is the time to defend the agency that represents the heart of science. Congress is in recess, but your senators can be reached through their home state offices. If you need information, call.

Bob Park can be reached via email at whatsnew@bobpark.org
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.