- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

The level of federal support for agencies funding university-based research has been good in recent years, but maintaining that momentum means the White Houses fiscal 2002 funding proposal for the National Science Foundation (NSF) needs to be increased.

In recent testimony before a defense appropriations subcommittee, I pointed out that this nation´s economy and security depend to a great extent on university-based research in the sciences, and that this research is funded by such agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy, NASA, and the NSF. Their support of university research has resulted in myriad benefits for every sector of society and helped prepare generations of scientists and engineers for careers in academia, industry, and government.

In the testimony I called for $10 billion in fiscal 2002 DOD funding for science and technology programs, a 10 percent increase over the fiscal 2001 appropriation. And that may indeed come about because President Bush plans to recommend substantial increases for the DOD as well as the NIH. However, he is calling for only a minimal increase barely more than 1 percent for the NSF, which is the only federal agency whose sole mission is to finance research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

My lifelong career in higher education including more than a decade as president of a public research university whose responsibility includes conducting scientific inquiry aimed at improving the human condition has shown me that support for university research must encompass a broad range of interests from basic to applied science if it is to yield the best possible results.

That is largely due to the fact that, when faculty members conduct research, they do not necessarily know what the outcome of their work will be or who will benefit from it. For example, Professor Grigore Burdea of Rutgers has NSF support for his research on the use of virtual reality in patient diagnosis and rehabilitation. This work includes the development of a glove that allows medical diagnosis of hand injuries as well as some medical training to be done over the Internet rather than through direct patient-doctor contact.

He has also developed a robotic boot that will permit the diagnosis and assessment of orthopedic and stroke-related injuries over the Internet, without the need to move the patient to a medical facility. In addition to its enormous potential to benefit the civilian population, this work also has important implications for such users as the military, who would find it possible to diagnose battlefield injuries from a combat-free locale and turn non-clinic sites into rehabilitation centers without first having to transport the patients.

Throughout the superb American community of learning it is common for more than one federal funding agency to be involved in supporting a particular project. That is true because many of those projects have multiple applications and their outcomes are important to a number of possible users. To me, that means it is in the best interests of the nation for the budgets of the research funding agencies to grow together.

Last year, with strong bipartisan support, Congress took the first step toward doubling the NSF budget. I believe it is crucial that we build on that momentum and increase the budget for the NSF to a level comparable with that recommended by President Bush for the NIH and the DOD. By giving the NSF strong support, we can ensure such benefits as continued economic growth, a better-educated work force, technological leadership, improved health, and strengthened national security. If university-based research is to grow for our national well-being as well as national defense it must grow in all the agencies involved.

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