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January 4, 2011 AT 12:26 pm

2011: The Year We Lose Funding?

It seems 2011 is shaping up to be a critical year for science funding. Back in December, I posted about congressman Eric Cantor’s plans for a new program called YouCut. This program would allow citizens to suggest federal budget cuts. The first agency on the chopping block? The NSF. Congressman Adrian Smith explains:

Shortly thereafter, the House of Representatives voted against increasing 2011 science funding from 2010 levels. From sciencemag.org:

The three federal agencies that support the vast majority of academic research would receive no more money in 2011 than in 2010 under a spending bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives last night. Although the Senate is working on a different version that would provide small increases for those agencies, the House vote is a clear signal that Congress has entered a new era of fiscal austerity.

Despite the opposition of 35 Democrats, the House leadership prevailed on a 212 to 206 vote that would hold overall discretionary spending to $1.09 trillion. That figure matches 2010 spending levels and is $46 billion below what President Barack Obama had requested for 2011.

Then, just before Christmas, the aforementioned Senate bill died. From genomeweb.com:

US President Barack Obama signed a bill last night that will keep the federal government operating for the next two months at fiscal-year 2010 spending levels, which could put in peril the White House’s and Congress’ proposed increases for biomedical research in the 2011 budget.

An omnibus US Senate spending bill that was a cheaper version of the President’s budget, and which called for a $750 million increase to the National Institutes of Health’s appropriation to $31.8 billion, died over the weekend.

As the clock ticked down toward the end of the year and the expiration of government funding, the $1.1 trillion bill was shelved in part due to opposition by Republicans to around $8 billion in earmarks that had been inserted into the bill by legislators, but which were not part of agency budgets.

Also under the omnibus bill that was set aside by the Senate late last week, The National Science Foundation was slated to receive a $418 million boost above last year’s level to $7.3 billion, which was $79 million less than the White House had asked for in its budget. The bill also called for $4.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and provided an extra $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy program.

Several organizations are now reporting general concern about the state of science funding — a topic which, until now, has been a relatively non-partisan issue in most cases. From APS.org:

Advocates for science are nervous about the uncertain future of science research funding following the 2010 midterm elections. Although experts admit that the future is far from certain, supporters of federal science funding have expressed concern that many of the new members of the House of Representatives and the new Republican leadership’s “Pledge to America” will favor budget cuts over support for research.

Experts also point out, however, that a contentious debate over science funding is relatively new to Congress.

“Science funding in general has been a pretty non-partisan topic. Both sides seem to see the benefit of R&D investment,” said Patrick Clemins director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Historically, funding for basic research has not been among the most partisan issues. Arguably the differences that have emerged over time are that Republicans tend to favor defense-related research while Democrats favor energy and environmental research. Active support for science research generally comes from those representing individual districts that have large research facilities such as major universities, a high tech industry, or a government lab.

And from New Scientist:

As Republicans take control of the US House of Representatives, science could take a hit – despite a new Congressional measure to boost funding.

“There’s going to be a big fight,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The question is who blinks first.”

In one of its last votes before the holidays, Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. Contained in the act is a resolution to boost science funding over the next three years.

But with budget-minded Republicans now a majority in the House of Representatives, even maintaining science funding at existing levels could be a struggle.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the whole things plays out. So, what do you think? Should science funding be cut as part of larger austerity measures, or should it be off-limits because it’s too vital to future prosperity?


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7 Comments

  1. I commented on that video a while ago, I still don’t see it. It seems that a logical, pro-science response isn’t worthy.

  2. Science is too important for our future prosperity to be cut. Instead, let’s kill the political party pet projects: kill welfare and entitlements, end foreign wars. Then we can build a strong, prosperous nation with the money we save.

  3. My only problem is there is too much junk at the federal government. “Science” – it must be good!

    Were they to close down every other thing and provide NASA with funding for real things that make a difference TODAY – like tornadoes, snow storms and weather, or even the planetary exploration:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101336630
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6127810.html

    But instead it seems everyone wants to shut NASA down and turn it into a place that hunts for evidence for an Al Gore movie sequel. That’s popular. “The polar bears, Daddy!”.

    That part of science which has become politicized can be completely cut as the results will either be wrong, suppressed, or suspect.

    The ability to get raw and important data should be supported and enhanced. I’d like to see more detailed weather maps, longer predictions, better information. And maybe another flyby, much less long term orbit of uranus and neptune before I die.

  4. I already lost my job in October due to greatly reduced government funding coming from federal funding sources such as the department of defense and NASA. Now decrease the funding levels for NSF? Way to totally kill the 3 of the major sources of funding for science and technology research and development for businesses small and large and universities.

    If the cuts go through, and I have no doubt that they will, (need more money for healthcare that nobody wants and the upcoming war in Korea) I can’t see the company I used to work for making it through the end of the year. Add another 100 people to the unemployed list in Massachusetts.

    As an experienced professional I am having a hard enough time finding a new job (in engineering) as it is, and a new round of budget cuts certainly will not help things any.

  5. … and the people voting to cut back on R&D funds will then complain when their job is outsourced. Which is “perfect” (as in a storm), because the business leaders want to do that anyways, for short term gains.

    When America has a real manufacturing sector (pre mid-1980’s), American CEOs used to complain the US did not spend enough public funds on education and R&D. What was in America’s interest aligned with their business interest. This alignment ended once outsourcing passed the tipping point… now it seems that spending on R&D and edu would be a threat to corporate profits and strategic investments.

    Congress is loyal to whoever raises them the most money, and unemployed workers are not quite useful to Congress in this regard (although they can be used as tools to angrily cut more funding from our remaining industries).

  6. Well, we’re having a great time here at FNAL (I’m just an IT geek here, not a scientist, but still). 😛 Pay will likely be frozen for the next two years along with anyone else associated with DOE, we just had a voluntary round of separations, and there are a lot of risks to our ongoing programs without congressional support.

    It’s hard to explain to the lay-person how theoretical high-energy physics research is valuable to society over the long term. Similarly with other science programs; the end result is often not something that can be immediately monetized.

    But it’s precisely because of that, the fact that what is done at the national labs and in our science programs doesn’t always (or even often) lend itself to commercial success, that we need strong public programs to pick up where the free market can’t or won’t.

    The free market would have never produced a particle accelerator for it’s own sake, but be damned if particle/neutron therapy hasn’t done wonders for cancer patients.

    Sadly, short-sightedness and lack of vision is a common theme in politics; taking a view longer than four years just doesn’t work.

  7. Hell, why should we care about our future, or that of the next generation? Just cut all the science funding, and we can spend money on way cooler and trendier things!

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