Nobody's talking about changing the name of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the Need to Support Facilities. But the foundation must spend a larger share of its $5 billion budget on research infrastructure to maintain U.S. leadership in science, declares a new report from its oversight body, the National Science Board.
An internal survey of NSF's disciplinary offices yielded a wish list of almost $2 billion a year through 2012 for scientific tools, ranging from computing networks and research vessels to telescopes and synchrotrons (see table). That would double NSF's current spending level. "The need is greater than we can address with our normal budget mechanisms, and it won't go away," says John White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and chair of the National Science Board task force that produced the 41-page report posted this week.
The task force urges NSF to spend 27% of its budget on tools, up from the current 22%. The draft report, 2 years in the making, expresses the hope that a possible doubling of NSF's budget over 5 years, endorsed by Congress last month as part of legislation to reauthorize NSF's programs, will solve a big chunk of the problem. But such an increase might never materialize, and even if it does, board members feel that NSF can't afford to wait.
The top spending priority, according to the board, should be advanced cyberinfrastructure that will serve the entire scientific community. But specific disciplines also have big needs, the board says. NSF would have to triple its annual spending on large research facilities--to $350 million--just to eliminate a backlog of detectors, telescopes, and other projects that the board has approved but Congress has yet to fund (Science, 14 September 2001, p. 1972. There's also a shortage of "midsized" facilities--those costing tens of millions of dollars, from submersible research vessels to synchrotron beamlines--that are too pricey for individual programs yet too small to rank as a major research installation.
The board hopes for feedback from the scientific community before issuing a final version of the report this winter.