Democratic News

When the Administration proposed its budget last week, Sen. Bingaman had a swift, sharp reaction to the White House’s bid to plug and abandon all technology support for America’s small, independent oil and gas producers. As one of the Senate’s most steadfast supporters of science and technology, Bingaman regularly speaks out about what he sees as a disturbing trend to underfund basic scientific research. Yesterday, Bingaman returned to the Senate floor to again emphasize that basic scientific research is an investment in America’s future, that the Administration’s proposed cuts to our nation’s basic science and technology programs will undermine America’s position as the world’s high-tech leader and put at risk its rates of innovation, growth and prosperity. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Science and Technology in the President’s Budget “In his recent State of the Union message, President George W. Bush said, ‘By making our economy more flexible, more innovative, and more competitive, we will keep America the economic leader of the world.’ “I agree with the President that strong economic growth is vital to continued American leadership, and I believe that innovation is the key to that growth. “But the reality of his proposed budget to spur innovation for next year does not square with his rhetoric of last week. “I fear this budget will do serious harm to our nation’s scientific and technological capacity, and because it shortchanges our children and threatens to deprive them of a prosperous and peaceful America like that we have enjoyed, the shame will be on us if we allow it go forward. “We are about to embark on an intense debate on the priorities of the Nation for its future. This debate is all about the Nation’s future growth and prosperity, and that, in turn, is about the Nation’s investment in the foundations of discovery and innovation. “What will not be in dispute is that science, and the technology that flows from it, are duly recognized as the principal engine of our economic growth. Nor will there be any contention of the fact that America’s present strength, prosperity, and global preeminence depend directly on fundamental research. The scientific and economic record of the past 50 years constitutes overwhelming proof. Domestic concerns “Regrettably, knowing full well that economic growth is a prerequisite for opportunity, and scientific research is a basic prerequisite for growth, this budget blueprint for the next fiscal year is inadequate to meet our long-term national goals. It is unsuited to the challenges of our time, built on short-run political calculations, and weakens one of the pillars of our country’s future economic health. It is not a clearly thought out strategy to ensure the preeminence of the U. S. scientific enterprise. “The budget proposes much larger cuts in domestic discretionary R&D programs than is generally understood. OMB’s less-than-straightforward numbers obscure the true impacts of the cuts. Moreover, once one gets past 2006, the proposed budgets in the out-years for domestic discretionary programs throughout the government would be cut below the 2004 and 2005 levels, even before inflation is taken into account. “Many of these R&D programs that are being curtailed or cut back have provided the cornerstone for our recent economic progress and spurred the creation of high paying jobs and record prosperity. “Basic research is the primary source of the new knowledge that ultimately drives the innovation process. The federal government supports a majority of the nation’s basic research and nearly 60 percent of the R&D performed in U.S. universities. Equally important, federally funded R&D at universities and colleges plays a key role in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers and providing a technically skilled workforce. “Scientific investments have never been more important to our nation’s future – and never have we stood at the verge of so many stunning advances. Cutting back now would be like cutting back our defense budget at the height of the Cold War. “Increases are disproportionately concentrated primarily in two departments – Defense, and Homeland Security -- leaving other R&D funding agencies with very modest increases or with increases for some agencies offset by flat funding or cuts in others. “In the name of national security, we are building a swaying tower of insecurity. Federal science and technology budget “In order to make room for huge tax cuts and address the record budget deficits they have helped create, the Administration now proposes major cuts in the research our country depends on to maintain technical leadership and ensure that Americans continue to enjoy growing prosperity and high paying jobs. “The budget distinguishes between federal R&D spending and federal spending for ‘Federal Science and Technology’ (FS&T). The FS&T designation, recommended by the National Academy of Scientists, is intended to highlight ‘activities central to the creation of new knowledge and technologies more consistently and accurately than the traditional R&D data.’ “It includes the full budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, Defense 6.1 and 6.2 research programs, various Energy Department R&D programs, and a variety of research efforts at other agencies. Overall, the FS&T designation encompasses nearly all of federal basic research, more than 80 percent of federal applied research, and about half of civilian development. It does not include Defense development, testing and evaluation. “The overall federal science and technology budget suffers a 3 percent decrease in real buying power. Businesses have always looked to the federal government to support the lion’s share of the basic research that has led to business successes in modern aircraft, computing, and many other areas. For FS&T, the President’s budget proposes a reduction of $877 million, to $60.2 billion. Among other things, it provides a death sentence for the Advanced Technology Program, and slashes funding for K-12 science and math education. Future research investments “President Bush’s proposed 2006 budget flat-lines or cuts funding for key federal medical and health research agencies. Today’s miracles of modern medicine are the result of past research in physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and engineering – most of which was carried out in universities by faculty and student researchers and supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and several defense agencies. “The National Science Foundation is woefully underfunded. Two years ago the President signed a bill authorizing doubling the budget of the National Science Foundation -- the premier agency supporting basic research in all fields of science and engineering in the nation’s outstanding universities and promoting investments in science, mathematics, and engineering education. “The Administration’s request next year for NSF is $2.91 billion, or 34 percent below the FY2006 level authorized. Adjusted for inflation (and shifting costs for Coast Guard icebreakers) the real purchasing power of NSF actually declines. NSF’s education programs continue to be devastated – down another 24 percent from last year. If the Administration believes in closing the gap in science and math performance between our students and the rest of the world, how is that possible when proposing cuts to math and science education programs? “The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s principal source of funding for treatments of cancer, AIDS, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, would decline 1.4 percent in constant dollars and the number of research project grants funding by NIH in FY 2006 would drop. This is the worst NIH budget since 1970. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, critical in preparing us for potential epidemics from possibly devastating new infectious diseases and biological terror, would be cut by 9 percent in constant dollars, while the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality would be flat-funded at $319 million. “At the Department of Energy, the Federal Science and Technology budget would drop by $278 million, or 5 percent. The science programs in the Department of Energy that support much of the nation’s premier work in physics and materials science is cut 6 percent in real spending. “While the President’s rhetoric during the State of the Union supported renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, the budget does not. Renewable energy research is cut 9 percent in constant dollars and energy efficiency 5 percent. All other energy programs (nuclear, fossil, transmission and distribution) decline by 9 percent. “The Administration is also undercutting efforts to support a technology-driven economy by slashing budgets for the National Institutes of Standards and Technology: The FY2006 request is 24 percent less than its FY2005 appropriated level of $708 million. The request eliminates the Advanced Technology Program, including $43 million of funding for ongoing projects that companies are relying on. “ATP is an industry-led, competitive, and cost-shared program that allows U.S. companies to develop the next generation of breakthrough technologies, enabling them to compete aggressively against foreign rivals. According to its 2004 annual report, returns from just 41 of the 736 ATP projects have exceeded $17 billion in economic benefits – more than 8 times the amount of money spent for all 736 projects. The National Academy of Sciences has found ATP to be an effective program which could use more funding wisely. “Buried within the Department of Defense budget are cuts to investments in science and technology that will substantially determine our war-fighting capabilities 10 to 15 years from now. Defense research, both basic and applied, are starved, and when inflation is factored in, we will end up buying less research than we did before. The Federal Science and Technology budget at the Department of Defense would drop by $905 million, or 14 percent. “For decades, possession of superior technology has been a cornerstone of U. S. military strategy. Maintaining this technological edge has become even more important as our military faces new formidable dangers to countering chemical, biological, nuclear and high-explosives threats and attacks. This budget makes a grave mistake in saying that America’s greatest military assets are no longer our greatest research universities. “Overall, the federal budget for science and technology would decline by over 3 percent and would decline by 4 percent in the absence of the requested increase for manned spaceflight. “Given the fierce competition U.S. businesses face from China, India and other nations even in high-technology products, this is a particularly dangerous time for America to be cutting back on innovation. New realities “Many of our senior industry, military and academic leaders are expressing their alarm that real federal spending on basic research has stalled. They worry whether we are starting to lose our edge in basic scientific research. They wonder if we are losing sight of the importance of long-term investments in creating the conditions for prosperity. “Their fear is that the Administration’s other priorities and enormous deficits will squeeze out these productivity-enhancing investments. They are concerned that funding for federal non-defense basic science and technology programs will continue to stagnate or decline. If we allow such an erosion of America’s ability to innovate, they warn, then be prepared for the wrenching turbulent social and economic change that is sure to follow. “There are so many powerful arguments for expanding the nation’s basic research agenda, even in these difficult economic times, that I hope the President will step up to the task of rethinking and realigning his budget proposals to reflect the importance of our investments in science and technology. “The greatest tragedies, of course, will be the missed opportunities. How many excellent research proposals will be left on the National Science Foundation’s cutting room floor, how many fewer students with fewer National Institute of Health grants will be pursuing research careers, how many advances in conquering disease will be slowed, and how many new lifesaving technologies will be delayed in reaching our warfighters? “This failure of intellectual leadership could not come at a worse time. “Now is precisely when we need enlightened national leaders who fully understand the value of basic research in science and technology. High-tech R&D is so enmeshed in our economy that it is part and parcel of the jobs and growth issue. “The issue of outsourcing high-tech, high-wage jobs -- reverse brain-drain -- has moved front and center to our economic worries. American workers, facing rising economic insecurity, are filled with anxiety and unease because they realize that almost any service that can be delivered in bits and bytes and does not require face-to-face interaction with customers is up for grabs. “We are on the brink of a new industrial and commercial world order. The successful competitors in the increasingly fierce global scramble for supremacy will not be those who simply make products faster and cheaper than anyone else; the big winners will be those who develop talent, techniques and tools so advanced that there is no competition. “That means the United States must secure unquestioned superiority in nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology. And that means upgrading and protecting the investments that have given us our present national stature and our unsurpassed standard of living. International worries “The paramount issue Congress needs to come to grips with is how to ensure that we remain at the epicenter of the ongoing revolution in research and innovation that is driving twenty-first century economies, and how to ensure that investors select the U .S. as the preferred site for the investments that create the best jobs and the best domestic services. “However, the reality of the 21st century global economy is that China, India and other nations once considered economic backwaters have discovered how to build strong economies around sophisticated technology. “We should be concerned about our competitive position relative to our global rivals’ investments in research and development. While we are limiting our science budget increases in the civilian arena, other countries’ investments are on an upward trajectory. “On the European Union front, the United Kingdom is planning on boosting its R&D spending to 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product. The French are aiming at investing 3 percent of their budget on R&D. Spain announced an ambitious plan to lift R&D funding by 25 percent until 2008 while excluding military spending from the equation. “On the Pacific Rim, China is doubling the proportion of GDP it spent in the last decade on R&D, India is raising its funding of science agencies by 27 percent, and Japan is increasing its investments in life sciences research by 32 percent, while South Korea is upgrading research spending by 8.5 percent. They are resolved to reach technological parity with the West. “What do we do about these international challenges? We have absolutely no choice but to emphasize what we do best in this coming rivalry. Our most important strength has always been innovation. Our can-do spirit of commercializing technological innovation has always been America’s core competence. We do it far better than anyone else. But faced with these other potential innovators on the global scene, we must start doing it even better. “As our federal R&D commitments shrink, so too does the pool of technically trained talent, forcing industry and academia to look abroad for skilled knowledge workers. Education and training of scientists and engineers are tied to federally sponsored research performed in the nation’s laboratories and universities. “The best course is to increase government funding for basic research and to spend more on graduate education in science and engineering. Conclusion “America has always been a nation built on hope – hope that we can build a prosperous, healthy world for ourselves and for our children. But it is clear that these long-standing American aspirations depend critically on our far-sighted investment in science and technology which lies at the center of this hope. Leadership in science and engineering and the world’s best education and training system are essential for ensuring Americans well-paying jobs and essential for our security. “When J. Robert Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist, warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, about Germany’s plan to build an atomic weapon, FDR replied in a secret letter that ‘Whatever the enemy may be planning, American science will be equal to the challenge.’ Never has a prediction been so prescient. “We know with every fiber of our being that the dominance of our fundamental research enterprise is a core American strength that must be preserved – and we must not let our position erode and compromise our future economic and national security. “By sustaining our investments in basic research, we can ensure that America remains at the forefront of scientific capability, thereby enhancing our ability to shape and improve our nation’s and the world’s future.”

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