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FYI Number 52: May 2, 2002

Science Committee Chairman Boehlert on Civilian and Defense S&T

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) recently addressed a defense conference on the 50th anniversary of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Boehlert's remarks were wide-ranging, addressing critical issues in both civilian and defense R&D. Selections from his remarks follow:

"The Administration's request for both civilian and defense research can be kindly described as - disappointing. While the Administration's FY 2003 request for R&D overall is above last year's level, most of the requested funding almost exclusively falls on the 'D' side of the ledger. The 'R' side - especially funding for basic research in math, physical sciences and engineering - is flat or even declining. Shorter-term requirements seem to be winning out over long-term needs.

"Even a casual glance at the Administration's budget makes clear what the R&D priorities are - biomedical research and the fight against terrorism at home and abroad. These are reasonable - even self-evident - priorities and they deserve to be funded more generously than are other programs. That's what it means to be a budget priority.

"But I'm concerned that the proposed budget treats these items not just as priorities, but as panaceas. And that, I fear, is a mistake. I have long supported, and continue to support the doubling of the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the NIH alone cannot under gird our economic health or even improve human health. Yet the NIH budget is now larger than that of the rest of the civilian science agencies put together, and just the increase in the NIH budget is larger than the research budget of National Science Foundation. Pretty soon, AFOSR's total budget will fall within the rounding error of the figure for the NIH.

"Similarly, I have long been a supporter of Defense Department advanced development programs, but those programs alone cannot create a stable and secure American society or even ensure our protection from enemy attacks over the long-term. Yet while the Pentagon is slated to receive a 12 percent increase, basic and applied research in the Defense Department are flat, and numerous programs in other agencies that unarguably contribute to Homeland Security receive tepid increases.

"For years, some have raised the difficult question of whether the R&D budget is out of balance. This year, we may finally find out the answer, and I fear it will be 'yes.'

"This has profound implications for our economic security as well as our national security. Take the Air Force for example. We often remark the US Air Force and the entire military is the most technologically superior force in the world, and today it most certainly is. But what about five or ten years from now? Many experts, blue-ribbon panels and former generals have warned that - unless something is done today - our military's technological leadership will be in jeopardy in the not so distant future.

"The National Research Council has documented - in a report released last year - a chronic pattern under funding of science and technology in the Air Force. The NRC report - requested by Congress and published last July - found that Air Force investment in science and technology fell 46 percent in real terms from FY 1989 to FY 2001. Let me repeat that - 46 percent! That's an alarming statistic for a service that prides itself on its technological brilliance.

"By contrast, the NRC found that investments by the Army, Navy and defense agencies rose between 17 and 47 percent in real terms over the same period. Now folks, tell me - when could we ever say that the Army or the Navy was more technologically advanced than the United States Air Force?

"It is often assumed that the military should be relying more and more on innovations flowing from high tech industry and this assumption is correct - to a point. What it fails to recognize is where industry got those innovations in the first place. Chances are the original breakthroughs were supported - often over many years - by the federal government through AFOSR, DARPA or one of the other federal basic research agencies.

"I know I'm preaching to the converted here but it's a point more and more of us who care about R&D investments need to make. I say this in particular to the representatives of the defense contractor community with us today. I can't remember a moment when a representative of a defense contractor ever - in my 20 years as a Member of Congress - came to me and said, you know, we're not investing enough in long-term, basic research.

"That's a message that needs to be heard-both inside and outside the Pentagon. Part of the problem is that there is a distinct lack of marketing of our system of innovation. We all know Intel's famous 'Intel Inside' sticker attached to seemingly every PC on the market. Maybe we can have an 'AFRL Inside' sticker on every F-22, Global Hawk or Predator. . . . "

"Organizations like the Air Force Research Laboratory and AFOSR are the well springs of innovation and discovery across disciplines of science and engineering. We must continue to keep them healthy and vibrant so we may continue to keep the U.S. Air Force on the cutting edge far into the future."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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