FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

“Too Critical to Cut”: Letter Urges Deficit Committee to Avoid R&D Funding Cuts

Richard M. Jones
Number 132 - November 3, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Almost 70 scientific societies and associations, universities, and organizations signed a letter authored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science urging a special congressional committee that is charged with developing a deficit reduction plan to avoid cutting R&D funding.  Among those signing this letter were the American Institute of Physics and five of its Member Societies, including the American Association of Physics Teachers, American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America. 

The submission of this letter comes amidst speculation that the committee may be unsuccessful in crafting a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars during the next ten years.  If the committee cannot agree upon a plan by November 23, or if Congress does not adopt it a month later, the Budget Control Act mandates automatic reductions in federal spending in January 2013 (note that this is a year from next January.)  House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) recently outlined the likely impacts of such a reduction on budgets of interest to the physics community. 

The letter follows.  A full list of the letter’s signatories is available here.

Dear Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction:

We recognize that our nation’s deficit poses a serious threat to our economy and our future. The Joint Committee faces a daunting challenge to lower the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. As you accomplish this difficult task, we urge you to keep in mind that drastic cuts to research investments in the discretionary accounts, both defense and non-defense, would set a dangerous precedent that would inhibit immediate scientific progress and threaten our international competitiveness long into the future. Indeed, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission last year identified federal research and development (R&D) as an area of U.S. investment too critical to be cut. [FYI] We urge you to entertain a similar conclusion.

Since World War II the partnerships and collaborations between science and society, the federal government and universities, the national laboratories, and industry have yielded new knowledge, new innovations, new products, new businesses, new jobs, and improved human well-being. Examples can be seen throughout our nation. An often-cited statistic is that approximately 50 percent of U.S. economic growth since World War II has come from advances in science and technology.

The benefits of research are clear. For example, over 250 companies have been created through the ingenuity and risk taking of researchers from the University of Washington alone. The legacy of investments made by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (precursor to NASA) can be seen today in companies such as Boeing. Quantum theory and solid-state theory, fields once considered to be basic physics research, were applied by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce at Fairchild Industries to invent the integrated circuit, the “chip” that is the brainpower behind every electronic device built today, including computers, smart phones, medical devices, and unmanned drones.

Mapping and sequencing the human genome, championed by the National Institutes of Health, has yielded new knowledge on immune disorders, kidney disease, birth defects, mental illness, obesity and much more. The National Science Foundation is helping to sequence the genome of the wheat stem rust fungus, a scourge in Asia, Africa and the Middle East that, if not understood and brought under control, may threaten North American crops. Department of Energy research has led to the development of new composite materials for lighter weight motor vehicles and electric vehicle technologies such as the lithium-ion battery.

As representatives of U.S. science, engineering, and higher education organizations, we urge you to strongly support the federal research budget and its mission to advance a balanced portfolio of scientific and technological discovery and innovation that has fueled American economic growth and rising standards of living for decades.

Science and discovery are important aspects of the American national character. American ingenuity is still the best reason for long-term optimism about the U.S. economy and the well-being of its people. An effective path out of the current difficulties should include investments in R&D. They can fuel our future growth and prosperity.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095