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

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Publication date: 
3 November 2011

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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.

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