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April 14, 2010 - ASCE Testimony - FY 2011 Appropriations for NIST and NSF

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Testimony of
The American Society of Civil Engineers before the Subcommittee
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
on the Budgets for the
National Science Foundation
and the
National Institute of Standards and Technology
For the Fiscal Year 2011

April 14, 2010

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: I am Tom Smith, and I am Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE is pleased to offer this testimony on the proposed budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) for Fiscal Year 2011.

ASCE is happy to support the President’s budget request for science and research. Research in civil engineering, properly conceived, conducted and implemented, should assure significant advances in the quality of life of individuals by providing essential service with minimal adverse effects on the environment by applying the principle of sustainable development and disaster resilience. Research should also provide new developments in civil engineering practice that will keep the profession dynamic.

ASCE recognizes that Congress must make difficult funding decisions this year. We encourage you to support the President’s science and research program. ASCE believes that technological innovation has been the engine driving the nation’s economic expansion of the last fifty years. ASCE firmly believes that by maintaining strong continuing and steadily increasing support for research and education, we will continue to enjoy the rewards of economic expansion. If we do not continue to invest in research and technology, we will loose our position in an ever more integrated and competitive world. Global competition increasingly requires the United States to make the necessary investments in science and engineering research and education.

The basic research funded by NSF, in engineering and all other areas of science, is the foundation of that investment in the future. Additionally, the targeted research and standards activities at NIST laboratories provide industry and the science and engineering community with the measurement capabilities, standards, evaluated reference data, and test methods that provide a common language needed at every stage of technical activity.

I. The American Society of Civil Engineers

ASCE, founded in 1852, is the country’s oldest national civil engineering organization representing more than 144,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry and academia dedicated to the advancement of the science and profession of civil engineering. ASCE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and professional society.

II. Hazard Mitigation

Within the NSF and NIST, and other Federal agencies, there exist a number of small but critical programs designed to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. These critical programs such as the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program and others hold the potential to save countless lives and billions of dollars. These programs deserve Congress’s full attention and funding.

NIST estimates each year, the United States suffers $52 billion in property damage, disruption of commerce, and lost lives due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes. A single major event—a big earthquake or hurricane— could cause some $80 billion to $200 billion in economic losses in the affected areas. The tragedy caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005 underscores the growing risk to society from natural disasters.

III. National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) has provided the resources and leadership that have led to significant advances in understanding the risk earthquakes pose and the best ways to counter them. Under NEHRP, there has been a constant source of funding for seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, code development, mitigation and emergency preparedness. A recent study and report by the Multihazard Mitigation Council entitled “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities,”, has concluded the money spent on reducing the risk of natural hazards is a sound investment. On average, a dollar spent by FEMA on hazard mitigation provides the nation about four dollars in future benefits. The type of research to be conducted under this program has the potential to increase the benefit greatly.

The 2004 reauthorization of NEHRP (P.L. 108-360) has given the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) new responsibility as the lead agency for NEHRP and an expanded role in problem-focused research and development in earthquake engineering.

In addition to its leadership role, NIST is now specifically tasked to carry out problemfocused research and development in earthquake engineering aimed at improving building codes and standards for both new and existing construction and advancing seismic practices for structures and lifelines.

The NSF also has a major role to play within NEHRP. The NSF has the responsibility to advance fundamental knowledge in earthquake engineering, earth science processes, and societal preparedness and response to earthquakes. Additionally, the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), operated by NSF, will expand knowledge through new methods for experimental and computational simulation.

The House recently approved the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2010 (H.R. 3820). The bill, passed on a 335-50 vote, would reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) for five years. The legislation reauthorizes NEHRP for five years with a total authorized funding level of $176.3 million in FY 2011. Additionally, the bill authorizes $26.3 million for the Windstorm program.

Among the programs under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee, the bill authorizes $66 million for NSF and $7.7 million for NIST under the NEHRP program. ASCE urges the Committee to support the full authorized funding level for these programs.

IV. National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program at NIST, NSF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

In October 2004, the President signed Public Law 108-360 authorizing the creation of the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. As recent events on the nation’s Gulf coast have so vividly illustrated, the nation remains highly vulnerable to major windstorms. We have not yet fully calculated the full damage inflected in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, but it will well exceed $100 billion (National Science Board).

This vulnerability was recognized by Congress in 2004 when it created the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. However, while the program has been authorized for FY 2006 through FY 2008, there has been no appropriation of funds or specific budget request. H.R. 3820 would also reauthorize the Windstorm Program, with an authorization of $26.3 million for FY 2011.

Specific amounts under this Subcommittee jurisdiction are $9.9 million for NSF, $4.2 million at NIST and $2.3 million at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the Windstorm program. ASCE urges the Committee to support the full authorized funding level for these programs. 

V. National Institute of Standards and Technology

ASCE strongly supports the Administration’s FY 2011 request of $918.9 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Scientific & Technical Research & Services (STRS) - These are NIST’s core programs that provide the measurements and standards on which the nation’s industry stands and grows. NIST laboratories provide industry and the science and engineering community with the measurement capabilities, standards, evaluated reference data, and test methods that provide a common language needed at every stage of technical activity. U.S. scientists rely on NIST’s evaluated data services and measurement expertise for a host of basic and applied research activities.

Building and Fire Research Laboratory – ASCE believes that the services provided by the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) are invaluable to the building industry. BFRL works to improve the productivity of U.S. construction industries and serves as the premier fire research laboratory in the U.S. It develops technologies to predict measure and test the performance of construction materials, components and practices. BFRL is the nation’s central laboratory for providing the tools (i.e. research and measurements) needed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Laboratory activities include: fire science and fire safety engineering; building materials; computer-integrated construction practices; structural, mechanical and environmental engineering; and building economics. The laboratory conducts investigations at the scene of major fires and structural failures due to earthquakes, hurricanes or other causes. The knowledge gained from these investigations guides research and is applied to recommendations for design and construction practices to reduce future hazards.

Construction is one of the nation’s largest industries, comparable in size to the health care and agricultural industries. Like those vital areas of the nation’s economy, the construction industry needs research and development to enhance international competitiveness and increase public health and safety. Funding for construction-related research, from all sources, is a fraction of that available to the healthcare and agricultural industries. Due to the fragmented nature of the construction industry, the private sector does not have the resources to conduct the needed research and development on its own.

In addition to our support for the NEHRP program, ASCE is also pleased to see the Administration’s request for $5 million for Disaster Resilient Buildings and Infrastructure. This initiative supports the creation of a Disaster and Failure Event Studies Program at NIST and research on fire resistance of structures. ASCE is also pleased with the request for an increase of $6 million for Green Construction as part of a $10 million increase for Green Manufacturing and Construction. Both of these programs are well targeted to address pressing needs in the design and construction industry.

National Construction Safety Team Act – Public Law 107-231 - created the National
Construction Safety Team at NIST with the mandate to investigate major building failures within the United States. The investigations are conducted to establish the technical causes of building failures and evaluate the technical aspects of emergency response. The goal is to recommend improvements to the way in which buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and used. ASCE supported this act; however ASCE believes that NIST must be provided with the necessary resources. The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee, established by the Act, recommended the creation and funding of a NCST office. ASCE urges Congress to appropriate at least $1 million for such an office.

VI. National Science Foundation (NSF)

ASCE supports the Administration’s FY 2011 request of $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In recent years, Congress has increasingly recognized that, to remain technologically and economically competitive, our country is dependent on long-term investment in federal research and education programs in science and engineering. The support that the federal government has provided for NSF in a period of budgetary stringency has helped this country to retain its world leadership position in research and education in science and engineering. That position is under unprecedented challenge from foreign nations newly committed to establishing leadership positions in research and technology development.

National investment in NSF research and education programs produces the new knowledge and the trained scientists and engineers indispensable to our future economic vitality and national security. ASCE strongly believes that Congress must maintain and increase that support.

Math and Science Partnerships – ASCE encourages the continued federal commitment to math and science education by maintaining the peer-reviewed Math and Science Partnerships (MSP’s) at the NSF and supporting robust funding for both the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the NSF Math and Science Partnership programs. We urge you to oppose the Administration's budget proposal that would phase-out the NSF MSP program in favor of the new federal grant administered by the Secretary of Education. The proposal would, in effect, limit individual states’ discretion to target much-needed funds for local science and mathematics education reforms.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity for ASCE to express its views. If you need more information, contact Martin Hight, ASCE Senior Manager of Government Relations at (202) 326-5125 or by e-mail at