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FYI Number 96: July 22, 2003

Senate Appropriators Call for Increased Funding of DOE Physical Science

Senate Report 108-105 accompanying the FY 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill gave considerable attention to the decline in the federal investment in physical sciences facilities and research. The decline in student enrollment in the physical sciences was described. "These trends must be reversed," Senate appropriators state. The full text of this section of the committee's report follows:

"GOVERNMENT FUNDING OF THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES

"Investment in the physical sciences and engineering plays a critical role in enabling U.S. technological innovation and global economic leadership. It is essential to the development and utilization of our energy resources, as well as innovations in the areas of defense, the environment, communications and information technologies, health care and much more. Over the past 50 years, half of U.S. economic growth has come from prior investment in science and technological innovation. Life expectancy has grown from 55 years in 1900 to nearly 80 years today.

"The Department of Energy is the leading source of Federal investment for R&D facilities and fundamental research in the physical sciences. Yet investment in the Department's R&D has declined in constant dollars from $11,200,000,000 in 1980 to $7,700,000,000 in 2001. As a percentage of GDP, total Federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering has been cut roughly in half since 1970.

"Shrinking investment in the physical sciences and engineering poses serious risks to DOE's ability to perform its mission. It also threatens the Nation's science and technology enterprise. DOE faces a shortage of nearly 40 percent in its technical workforce over the next 5 years. To meet its needs, DOE must compete with industry for a shrinking pool of skilled workers, many of whose leaders also report serious shortages of scientists and engineers.

"American educational institutions are failing to attract sufficient numbers of U.S. students, especially women and minorities, into undergraduate and graduate programs in the physical sciences and engineering. For these skills the United States is now more heavily dependent on foreign nations than ever before. The H1-B visa has become a main element of U.S. technology policy.

"As fewer foreign students choose to pursue their education in the United States, and too few U.S. students enter these fields, our vulnerability grows. The National Science Foundation reports that between 1996 and 1999, the number of Ph.D.s in science and engineering awarded to foreign students declined by 15 percent. Only 5 percent of U.S. students now earn bachelors degrees in natural science or engineering. Since 1986, the total number of bachelors degrees in engineering is down 15 percent. Between 1994 and 2000, the number of Ph.D.s awarded in physics in the United States declined by 22 percent.

"These trends must be reversed. Many DOE user facilities do not operate at their designed capacity. As a result, opportunities and momentum are lost as researchers and students encounter barriers to the pursuit of their studies, including promising research opportunities at the boundaries of the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and computer sciences. Future U.S. global leadership and technological leadership will rely upon today's investment in research in all of the science and engineering disciplines."

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

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