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Infrastructure Report

Paul Herer
National Science Foundation
Suite 1295
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

January 9, 2003

Dear Dr. Herer:

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) appreciates the opportunity to provide comment on the draft National Science Board's Report, "Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century: the Role of the National Science Foundation." ESA is the nation's largest professional membership society of ecological scientists. ESA's 7,800 members are leaders in the field of ecology with expertise ranging from nutrient cycling to species behavior to global change.

We thank the National Science Board for undertaking this study to examine national infrastructure needs in the research community. We believe the report contains many useful recommendations that should make critical contributions to scientific progress.

However, while ESA supports the report's recommendation for increased infrastructure, we believe that the phrasing of the report's first recommendation risks further erosion of the National Science Foundation's core research programs:

Recommendation 1: Increase the share of the budget devoted to S&E infrastructure.
NSF's future investment in S&E infrastructure should be increased in order to respond to the needs and opportunities identified in this report. It is hoped that the majority of these additional resources can be provided through future growth of the NSF budget. The more immediate needs must be at least partially addressed through increasing the share of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure. The current 22 percent of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure is too low and should be increased. In increasing the infrastructure share, the focus should be on providing individual investigators and groups of investigators with the resources they need to work at the frontiers of S&E.

Our concern is that unless the agency receives consistent and significant funding increases, increasing the proportion of NSF funds devoted to infrastructure will come at the expense of core programs. We request that the committee consider altering this part of its recommendation.

Although the NSF authorization bill has been signed into law and urges a significant funding boost for this agency, the actual appropriations outcome for NSF over the coming years is far from certain. If the agency's budget does not rise significantly, increasing the share of funds going to "tools"-NSF's infrastructure-will come at the expense of the "ideas" component of the agency-the science areas. Core research areas, which amount to about 50 percent of the agency's budget, have already been diluted through the increasing presence of special agency initiatives.

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on this report and hope that you will give strong consideration to our concern.


Dr. Ann M. Bartuska, President