Congressional Science Policy Initiative

Committee hearing resource | Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

Send in your questions to help Congress decide on research priorities for the National Science Foundation

Engage, and take action! If you have a question or idea you think lawmakers should raise with witnesses during this hearing, or you would like to be a part of FAS’ community to contribute your expertise, kindly scroll down and submit via the form below. Or scroll down to learn more about the issues.

As economic rivals like China build their research and development capacity, add to their talent base, and strengthen their position on the world stage, the U.S. must act to maintain its fiscal and scientific competitiveness. Congress can have a large impact on U.S. science and technology via its annual federal appropriations process.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is poised to address the U.S.’ international competitiveness and establish the future scientific funding priorities of the National Science Foundation (NSF) at a hearing on April 13th. The Committee wants to hear your thoughts on whether NSF should expand its purview outside of fundamental research, what areas of science NSF should focus on, how to maintain the country’s edge in research and development, and the ways to restore the science and technology enterprise after the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.

This website gives you an opportunity to tell Congress what issues should be discussed during this key hearing. You can submit questions that lawmakers should ask the witnesses (sample questions can be found below), personal stories about your experiences related to this issue, or your general thoughts on how Congress should conduct oversight over NSF.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing to examine the President’s proposed budget estimates for fiscal year 2022 for the National Science Foundation and securing U.S. competitiveness
Tuesday, April 13, 2021 at 2:00 PM ET
Witnesses:
Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director, National Science Foundation

Evidence-based sample questions lawmakers could ask witnesses. Please share yours for lawmakers.

More sample questions will be added as objective contributions are received from the expert community. Kindly submit your idea via the form below. Last updated Friday 4/9/2021.

Using the Graduate Research Fellowship to bolster the STEM workforce

The Federal Government has identified artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information science, 5G networks, advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology as the five “Industries of the Future”:  key technological domains projected to have the greatest impact on advancing national competitiveness in the coming years. 

A robust STEM workforce is needed to sustain leadership in the Industries of the Future, especially against competitors such as China. However, systemic inequities, especially across race, gender, and socioeconomic status, hinder many Americans from fully participating in the STEM workforce.

What steps can the National Science Foundation take to ensure more Americans can participate in the Industries of the Future, and particularly, how could it leverage its Graduate Research Fellowship Program towards this goal?

Contributed by the Day One Project

Growing convergence research

Growing convergence research at NSF was identified in 2016 as one of 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. Convergence research is characterized by its solutions-based approach, as well as deep integration across disciplines. Convergence is a compelling paradigm and could be a potent force for advancing scientific discovery via transdisciplinary collaboration.

How can NSF build on the recently established funding for convergence research to accelerate the transition from research to practice in areas of national importance?

Contributed by the Day One Project

Bolstering the national science and technology workforce

Over the last 40 years, the private sector has overtaken the government in funding R&D. Research in key technological domains such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology will dictate national competitiveness for years to come, and yet the United States does not have the domestic workforce to supply such high-level research. The Ph.D. track for researchers usually takes about 5-7 years on average to complete, attrition notwithstanding. 

What can NSF do to expand how it trains students for research beyond the traditional 5-7 year Phd-track in order to fit the needs of today’s STEM workforce?

Upgrading research facilities in the U.S.

The administration’s infrastructure plan includes tens of billions of dollars to upgrade federal and academic research facilities. The need is real – for example, “more than half of the facilities on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s two main campuses are in poor to critical condition.”

Dr. Panchanathan, based on your discussions with researchers in academia, can you please comment on the need to upgrade research facilities at colleges, universities, and other research institutions?

Why the culture at NSF is key

There is potential for NSF to receive both an expanded budget and mission to enhance U.S. innovation. Part of this could include NSF housing a technology directorate. Some academic leaders believe an additional, different way of approaching problems will be useful to NSF, while others have warned that any expansion of mission must be done just right in order to maintain the NSF’s culture and not “dilute NSF’s ability to support basic research at universities.”

NSF has a “70-year history of funding research that has fueled U.S. economic growth and national security.” Please describe the aspects of NSF’s culture that are essential to maintain in order for NSF to continue to drive the fundamental research that leads to U.S. innovation.

Supporting female scientists and those with young children

Studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected female scientists, particularly those with young children. One survey published in Nature found that scientists with at least one child five years old or younger experienced a 17% larger decline in research time than scientists without children.

How does NSF plan to support scientists, many who are early in their careers, who have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Competing with China on artificial intelligence

According to the final report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, China has “the might, talent, and ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s leader in AI in the next decade if current trends do not change.” Given China’s current use of AI to suppress its citizens and persecute the Uighurs, this should be a significant concern for the United States.

What does the National Science Foundation plan to do to bolster the U.S.’ competitiveness in AI? What can Congress do to help?

Prioritizing science communication

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the need for effective science communication. It is imperative to restore confidence in science, and improve understanding of what it can and cannot offer our society. As one of the nation’s leading vehicles for science, NSF is a major stakeholder in creating a scientifically and technologically literate society.

Dr. Panchanathan, can you please comment on how science communication can be integrated across NSF in creative and fresh ways, and how can it be leveraged to meet the grand societal challenges we are facing today?

Your question could be here!

Your question could be here!

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Quick reads

Protecting Federal Research from Foreign Influence – GAO WatchBlog post

On National STEM Day, Combatting Sexual Harassment in STEM Research – GAO WatchBlog post

Federal STEM Education Programs – GAO WatchBlog post

Overview of Artificial Intelligence – CRS In Focus brief

Deep dives

Data Governance: Agencies Made Progress in Establishing Governance, but Need to Address Key Milestones – GAO report

National Science Foundation: Cost and Schedule Performance of Large Facilities Construction Projects and Opportunities to Improve Project Management – GAO report

Overview of FY2021 Appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) – CRS report

Federal Research and Development (R&D) Funding: FY 2021 – CRS report

Science and Technology Issues in the 116th Congress – CRS report

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: An Overview – CRS report

The National Science Foundation: An Overview – CRS report

Supplemental resources

Press clips

Q&A: U.S. Science Foundation Director on His Vision for the Agency – IEEE Spectrum piece

Biden, Congress roll out big plans to expand National Science Foundation – Science piece

House panel offers its plan to double NSF budget and create technology directorate – Science piece

Chinese innovation is surging — we must fund science to compete – The Hill piece

Research funding led to COVID breakthroughs — we need more to prevent the next pandemic – The Hill piece

US universities call for clearer rules on science espionage amid China crackdown – Nature piece

Federal ‘Brain Drain’ Examined by Science Committee – AIP piece

Congressional correspondence

Letter from the Coalition for National Science Funding to the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee to advocate for an increase in funding for NSF

Letter from the Association of American Universities to the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science about NSF funding

Bipartisan bills

To authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025, and 2026 for the National Science Foundation, and for other purposes, H.R.2225

STEM Opportunities Act, H.R.204

Rural STEM Education Research Act, H.R.210

Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, H.R.144

Promoting Digital Privacy Technologies Act, H.R.847, S.224

RISE Act of 2021, H.R.869, S.289

Science. Policy. Service. Progress.

The Congressional Science Policy Initiative (CSPI) is a nonpartisan effort to facilitate the engagement of scientists, engineers, technologists, and other experts with the US Legislative Branch to help produce evidence-based public policy.

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