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NSF Puts Brave Face On

19 February 2001 7:00 pm
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Still smiling. Colwell's National Science Foundation faces budget worries.

Last week, White House officials signaled that the Administration's 2002 request for NSF might be just 1% above the foundation's 2001 budget--or even less than that. That bleak news comes just as NSF is unfolding ambitious plans. In a lecture at the meeting, Colwell said she's pushing a new mathematics initiative as the centerpiece for the NSF's 2002 budget request, which will not be released in full until 3 April. And she also insisted on putting a high priority on increasing the average annual student stipends from the current $17,000 (an income level that qualifies poor people for food stamps) to $25,000. The average income for postdoctoral researchers should go up from $27,000 to $40,000 or $45,000, Colwell said.

Another NSF priority is increasing the number and duration of research grants. In 2000, NSF reviewed nearly 30,000 proposals, but funded fewer than one-third of them. Of those not funded, 233 were rated "excellent" by outside peer reviewers and almost 10,000 were "very good." Given the cost and time associated with writing and reviewing proposals, "the process is becoming rather inefficient," Colwell said. She added that she would like to increase the average length of time of a grant from 2.8 years to 3.8 years, the average at the National Institutes of Health.

Colwell admitted that expanding NSF's duties in an era of fiscal restraint will require "a delicate balance." But NSF backers hope Congress will come to their rescue in the coming months by providing more money than the Bush Administration wants to request. "The budget plans for this year are not very rosy," public affairs director Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society told the audience after Colwell's speech. "It would be very wise for you all to weigh in on this."

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