Science agency chastised for its spending priorities

House appropriators from both parties say they are baffled by some of the priorities -- or lack thereof -- in the National Science Foundation's budget request for fiscal 2008.

Cybersecurity was absent from a list of priorities that NSF Director Arden Bement shared with the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee in his opening testimony at a Thursday hearing. And one lawmaker said other areas of emphasis, such as climate change and ocean research, sound like responsibilities that belong to other agencies.

Although Bement's statement did highlight NSF's plan to continue funding a program aimed at improving science and mathematics education and teaching, lawmakers immediately noted that NSF is proposing to decrease funding for its major educational account.

Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said President Bush has proposed that NSF spend about 6 percent less for education and human resources than the amount enacted in fiscal 2006, which was $902 million.

"I'm not seeing the same attention paid" to the fiscal 2008 science education budget as to the other research budgets in the overall $6.43 billion request, Mollohan said.

Bement replied that the education program has not yet undergone a rigorous evaluation, which he said is the prerequisite for a funding increase.

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., urged Bement to bolster NSF's efforts in the cyber-security realm, in close association with the Homeland Security Department. Rogers said he is not well-versed on the adequacy or inadequacy of NSF's current cyber-security initiatives, but added, "I would hope this would be on the top of your list."

Bement assured Rogers that NSF is working with Homeland Security and created a cyber infrastructure division in response to concerns about the threat of intrusion or disruption to the Internet.

For years, the United States has neglected to coordinate a federal approach to cybersecurity, according to the Government Accountability Office.

NSF's planned research spending on environmental observations and marine ecosystems led California Democrat Michael Honda to question whether the agency would be dishing out money on science studies already being conducted by agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bement said computational research in the fields of climate change, marine ecosystems and other environmental areas eventually will be applied in other sectors but first will service the academic community. "Will [the research] be used in NASA to support their space program? Of course," Bement said.

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