Mar 08 2007


Opening Statement of Ranking Member Richard Shelby

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Ranking Member of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee (CJS), today made the following opening statement at the hearing of the Subcommittee to examine the proposed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) budget for fiscal year 2008. 

Senator Shelby’s opening statement, as prepared:

“Thank you, Madam Chairman.  And thank you Admiral Lautenbacher and Dr. Bement for joining us today.”  

“This is an important hearing because it gives me the opportunity to talk about the critical roles the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation play in the economic, scientific, and intellectual growth of this nation.  Science and technology drive the engine of our country’s economic future.”

“Cutting edge technology creates a better quality of life for us all.  The strategic Federal investment in scientific research, particularly the funding support at NSF, has led to innovative problem solving and technological developments that have dramatically increased the country’s economic growth.”

“NOAA’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008 is $3.8 billion.  This is a decrease of $100 million from the funding level provided in the Joint Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007.  In stark contrast to the budget for NOAA, the budget request for NSF is $6.4 billion, an increase of $513 million over the 2007 Joint Resolution level.”

“Last Thursday, my home state of Alabama was devastated by a storm system that spawned killer tornados that claimed the lives of 10 people, destroyed hundreds of homes and a school, and severely damaged another school.” 

“In Southeast Alabama’s Coffee County, a tornado slammed into Enterprise High School, collapsing a roof killing eight students.  Not far from the school in Enterprise, an elderly woman was killed by flying storm debris.  In West Alabama’s Wilcox County, the storm claimed the life of a Miller’s Ferry father who was crushed in his home.”

“While we will never recover from the loss of life, I am certain that the people in Alabama will work to rebuild even stronger communities and I will continue to do everything in my power to get them the resources they need to do so.  It will take time and resources for the damaged communities to begin to heal and erase the scars of this destruction.” 

“Our nation as a whole needs to do more to protect our citizens, not just with storm prediction, but also with disaster response and community preparedness.  We must improve short-term forecasting and gain a better understating of long-term climate change.” 

“After forecasting, we must explore what can be done in advance communications so that warnings can reach communities quicker.  We must find better ways to respond.  Emergency coordination after a severe storm is a critical but often overlooked function in saving lives.”

“The people of Alabama are resilient and have already begun cleaning up and planning to rebuild -- I saw this firsthand when I toured some of the damaged area with President Bush this past Saturday.  But how can we ensure that they rebuild safer homes and schools to withstand the next storm?  I don’t have to be a NOAA weather forecaster to predict that another devastating storm will hit Alabama again -- it’s just a matter of time.  Will our citizens be any safer?”

“Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita showed us how vulnerable we are to natural disasters.  Last week, we were grimly reminded that we still have a long way to go in finding answers to the lessons taught to us by those hurricanes.  Science, technology, and research hold many of these answers.” 

“Today, Admiral, I will be asking for your support and guidance on how we can better respond to these natural disasters.  Last week’s storms claimed 20 lives from Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri. We cannot eliminate severe storms, but we should envision a day when we can live with them more safely.” 

“Overall, I am concerned about the health of NOAA’s science budget.  Congress continually receives a budget request from the Administration that downplays critical science activities when compared to the previous year’s funding levels.  The NOAA FY 2008 request is less than what the agency received in 2007, 2006, and 2005.”

“In past years, the Joint Ocean Commission has clearly and objectively laid out the budgetary requirements to better support ocean-related science research and education.  NOAA’s budget request boasts a $123 million increase for ocean-related activities, while NSF’s request to study marine ecosystems and associated human impacts contains only a $17 million increase.  These modest figures represent only a fraction of the true budgetary needs for the marine community.” 

“I am pleased to see that the American Competitiveness Initiative, or ACI, has continued to receive support from the Administration through the National Science Foundation’s budget request.   The ACI will keep the competitive edge that our nation expects in the world economy through research and innovation, by focusing on the ingenuity of our people, and tying our capabilities to policies that will keep us at the forefront of scientific and technical advancement for generations to come.” 

“The ACI provides a tremendous opportunity to maintain our national technological advantage in more competitive world.  However, I do not think that it goes far enough to take advantage of our existing federal investments.  The funding of the ACI includes an increase of $366 million in the Research and Related Activities account at NSF.  While this benefits current research, I am concerned about what we are doing to encourage the next generation of researchers.” 

“The long-term vision must include increasing opportunities for colleges and universities across the country to participate in innovation.  Many of the funds provided to NSF as part of the ACI will go to traditional research schools that have historically fared well in obtaining research grants.” 

“We should find ways to raise the bar of competitiveness to reach out to universities that have not traditionally been taken into consideration.  We also need to provide the funds to increase the level of science education through better curriculum and inspiring K-12 science teachers.  NSF is the ideal place to begin such a long term investment.”

“I am concerned about the number of American students enrolling in science and engineering fields of study.  The most recent report from the Council on Competitiveness states that foreign students account for most of the growth in Ph.D.s in science and engineering, despite the progress being made by females and minorities in this area.”

“Our lack of new scientists and engineers will eventually become a crisis.  We are not attracting enough young students into these disciplines and are relying too heavily on foreign students.  These same students return to their homeland where competitive jobs are becoming increasingly available.  To remain at the cutting edge of innovation, we need to act now in cultivating our own next generation of engineers and scientists.  There is much untapped potential within our own borders – we must make this a priority.”

“The Office of Science and Technology Policy states that the goal of ACI’s goal is not to “introduce entirely new government programs, but to increase fundamental research capacity.”  While there is significant Federal investment in research and innovation, there should be a much broader vision to include agencies beyond those already included in the ACI, while not diluting current efforts.”

“Along these lines, it is discouraging to see that the Administration wants to see the Nation at the forefront of innovation, yet chooses to exclude NOAA from the initiative.  NOAA stands out as an international leader in marine and atmospheric science, and as a cornerstone of our nation’s research community.  NOAA’s education and outreach activities appear to fall directly in line with ACI’s educational goals.  As I stated here in last week’s Department of Commerce hearing, I am concerned why this agency is not recognized as a candidate for the ACI program.  I want to thank the Chairman for having this hearing today and I look forward to the statements of Admiral Lautenbacher and Dr. Bement.”