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NSF Authorization Act

AAS ACTION ALERT 2002-03

Summary

The Senate is now considering the NSF Authorization Bill, but the process has slowed down. Input from the scientific community will help ensure that the bill is passed this year. AAS members are requested to send letters to selected senators asking that the process move forward quickly.

Background

On 5 June, the House of Representatives passed the NSF Authorization Act of 2002. This piece of legislation authorizes significantly increased funding for the NSF, at the level of 15% increases per year for the next three years. The goal of the bill is to at least double the NSF budget within five years. This bill simply authorizes the expenditure, action by the Appropriations Committees is required to secure the funding increases.

Key sponsor of the bill, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Science Committee, recognizes that the NSF has been under-funded in the past and that this is hurting our nation's ability to produce good science and good future scientists. In a press release on the day that the House passed the bill he said,

"When we look at the new fields of science and engineering that will boost our economy in this new century, fields like nanotechnology, where do we turn to ensure that our nation's researchers stay at the cutting edge? NSF.

When we look at the field of information technology, which facilitates every activity in today's economy, where do we turn to ensure that the U.S. remains at the cutting edge? NSF.

When we consider our ever more urgent need for a highly skilled, technologically literate workforce, where do we turn to ensure that our education system from kindergarten through post-graduate work is preparing the people we need? NSF.

We turn to NSF to solve some of our most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide where to invest federal funds.

It's time to give NSF the money it needs."

It is clear that Representative Boehlert is a true champion for the NSF and for science.

The Senate is now considering the bill. Because two committees must pass the bill before it can be voted on by the full senate, it is important to remind Senators of the importance of the NSF to the scientific community. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee will likely begin consideration of the bill this week, but it is unlikely that they will vote on the legislation until after the August recess. The Commerce, Science and Transportation committee will subsequently begin consideration of the bill.

By writing to Senators on these committees, AAS members (especially if they are constituents) can help guarantee that the authorization bill will be considered during this Congress and not put off until next year (when its contents could be significantly altered by a new Congress).

The full text of the bill is available at the Library of Congress' legislative archive site "Thomas" through this link.

In addition to the increased funding track authorized in this bill, the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee is established (as recommended by the COMRAA report - see the following link for more details on this committee and its report: http://www.aas.org/policy/BlueRibbonPanel.html ). This special advisory committee would serve to coordinate NASA and NSF astronomy and astrophysics research and track the status of Decadal Survey initiatives.

The bill also calls upon the Director of NSF to prioritize Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction projects and calls upon the National Science Board to approve both the projects and their prioritization. Currently, MREFC projects are simply approved by the NSB, with no prioritization provided by the Director. Additionally, the bill requires the NSF Director to prepare facilities plans each year, which would include full life-cycle costs of major facilities.

These recommendations will help Astronomy and Astrophysics in the long term and should be mentioned and affirmed in any letters to Congress.

REQUEST

AAS members who are constituents of the following Senators are strongly encouraged to write a brief letter asking that the NSF Authorization Act be quickly approved and brought to the Senate floor in addition to writing to the Chair and Ranking Member of each committee.

If a member's Senator is not listed, please simply write to the Chair and Ranking Member of the two committees.

A sample letter is provided below. Please do not use this letter directly. Make changes to personalize the content.

Sidney Wolff, Chair, AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy

Kevin B. Marvel, Deputy Executive Officer, American Astronomical Society

Addresses of Senators to Write

(Senators are listed by Committee. After the room and bldg. add "Senate Office Building." All cities are Washington, DC, all zip codes are 20510, all titles are Senator, unless they are a Ranking Member or Chair of the committee, which is indicated in the last column)

COMMITTEE: Commerce, Science and Transportation

FIRST LAST STATE ROOM BLDG_NAME POSITION

Ernest Hollings South Carolina 125 Russell Chair

John McCain Arizona 241 Russell Rnk. Mem.

Ted Stevens Alaska 522 Hart

Barbara Boxer California 112 Hart

Max Cleland Georgia 461 Dirksen

Daniel Inouye Hawaii 722 Hart

Peter Fitzgerald Illinois 555 Dirksen

Sam Brownback Kansas 303 Hart

John Breaux Louisiana 503 Hart

Olympia Snowe Maine 154 Russell

John Kerry Massachusetts 304 Russell

Trent Lott Mississippi 487 Russell

Jean Carnahan Missouri 516 Hart

Conrad Burns Montana 187 Dirksen

John Ensign Nevada 364 Russell

John Edwards North Carolina 225 Dirksen

Byron Dorgan North Dakota 713 Hart

Gordon Smith Oregon 404 Russell

Ron Wyden Oregon 516 Hart

Kay Bailey Hutchison Texas 284 Russell

George Allen Virginia 204 Russell

John Rockefeller West Virginia 531 Hart

COMMITTEE: Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

FIRST LAST STATE ROOM BLDG_NAME POSITION

Edward Kennedy Massachusetts 315 Russell Chair

Judd Gregg New Hampshire 393 Russell Rnk. Mem.

Jeff Sessions Alabama 493 Russell

Tim Hutchinson Arkansas 239 Dirksen

Christopher Dodd Connecticut 448 Russell

Tom Harkin Iowa 731 Hart

Pat Roberts Kansas 302 Hart

Susan Collins Maine 172 Russell

Barbara Mikulski Maryland 709 Hart

Paul David Wellstone Minnesota 136 Hart

Christopher Bond Missouri 274 Russell

Jeff Bingaman New Mexico 703 Hart

Hillary Clinton New York 476 Russell

John Edwards North Carolina 225 Dirksen

Jack Reed Rhode Island 320 Hart

Bill Frist Tennessee 416 Russell

James Jeffords Vermont 728 Hart

John Warner Virginia 225 Russell

Patty Murray Washington 173 Russell

Michael Enzi Wyoming 290 Russell

SAMPLE LETTER

Senator John Adams

333 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Adams,

I am writing to ask you to quickly approve the NSF Authorization Act of 2002 (H.R. 4664), which is currently being reviewed by the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and bring the bill to vote on the floor of the Senate.

This bill authorizes significant funding increases for the NSF, funding increases that are vital to our Nation's long-term security. Our economy is based on technological innovation and development, which are both made possible through basic scientific research. The NSF is the only federal agency tasked with supporting basic research and is therefore fundamentally important to our Nation's economy. With basic research, technological innovation and a strong economy our Nation's security is significantly enhanced. It is not a stretch to say that without basic research, we would not be as well off or as secure as we are today.

H.R. 4664 also calls upon the NSF Director to prioritize large facility construction projects, projects funded under the so-called Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget line.

This budget item is under increased pressure from a variety of important projects from a variety of scientific disciplines. By requiring the NSF Director ---with the approval of the National Science Board--- to prioritize these projects, Congress may more confidently provide funding for their completion. Currently, their priority is not clear, leaving open the possibility that the most important projects _scientifically_ will not be funded first.

I strongly believe that these projects should be proposed in a prioritized manner and urge you to support this portion of the bill.

The legislation would also form an Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee. This inter-agency committee would help to coordinate astronomy and astrophysics research funded by NSF and NASA. Although NSF and NASA have worked together to support joint astronomy and astrophysics research, this committee would improve this collaboration, possibly saving taxpayer dollars while maximizing scientific results.

In conclusion, I urge you to work within your committee to quickly pass the NSF Authorization Act of 2002 and bring it to a vote on the floor of the Senate at as early a date as possible. This bill is good for astronomy research, good for the NSF and most importantly, good for our Nation.

Sincerely,

Stahrs R. Twinklin Astronomy Department, Your State College

[Mailed to US members from aas.org at 4:15pm 24 July 2002]

To read previous AAS Informational Emails visit http://www.aas.org/policy/InformationalEmails.html

To read previous AAS Action Alerts visit http://www.aas.org/policy/ActionAlerts.html

Comments, questions and complaints to: mailto:marvel@aas.org

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