Here are words of unmistakable support for federal investments in basic research, even in tight budget times. Can you guess the President who uttered them?

Science has grown, and with it, the fascination it holds for all of us. But as the pursuit of science has become ever more nationally and even multinationally funded, it has also become more expensive. The problem here is that science, unlike a bridge or an interstate highway or a courthouse, has no local constituency. Today, when we’re witnessing some of the most exciting discoveries in the history of science, things similar to the breakthroughs associated with Einstein, Galileo, and Newton, Federal funding for science is in jeopardy because of budget constraints.

That’s why it’s my duty as President to draw its importance to your attention and that of Congress. America has long been the world’s scientific leader. Over the years, we’ve secured far more patents than any other country in the world. And since World War II, we have won more Nobel prizes for science than the Europeans and Japanese combined. We also support more of what is called basic research; that is, research meant to teach us rather than to invent or develop new products. And for the past 40 years, the Government has been our leading sponsor of basic research.

The remarkable thing is that although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government does. … I think that over the past 50 years the Government has helped build a number of particle accelerators so scientists could study high energy physics. Major industries, including television, communications, and computer industries, couldn’t be where they are today without developments that began with this basic research.

We cannot know where scientific research will lead. The consequences and spin-offs are unknown and unknowable until they happen. In research, as Albert Einstein once said, imagination is more important than knowledge. We can travel wherever the eye of our imagination can see. But one thing is certain: If we don’t explore, others will, and we’ll fall behind. This is why I’ve urged Congress to devote more money to research. … It is an indispensable investment in America’s future.

Some say that we can’t afford it, that we’re too strapped for cash. Well, leadership means making hard choices, even in an election year. We’ve put our research budget under a microscope and looked for quality and cost effectiveness. We’ve put together the best program for the taxpayers’ dollars. After all, the American tradition of hope is one we can’t afford to forget.

Give up?

(via Barry Toiv at AAU)

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The full House Committee on Appropriations today approved its version of the FY 12 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We focused on some of the funding levels included in the bill in our last post. The committee also released the legislative report accompanying the bill, which provides some insight into the funding decisions made by the committee. Some highlights:

  • Despite funding levels well below the President’s requested increases for FY12, science agencies in the bill were still a high priority, according to the committee’s report:

In the context of reducing overall discretionary spending in this bill, the Committee’s funding recommendations focus resources on the areas of highest priority, reflecting the Committee’s assessment of national priorities and ongoing challenges.

Law Enforcement and National Security. …<snip>…

American innovation and competitiveness. As stated in the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report of the National Research Council, healthy levels of investment in scientific research are the key to long-term economic growth that exceeds population growth. These investments lead to innovation and improve the competitiveness of American businesses, leading, in turn, to positive impacts on the quality of life for all Americans. The bill includes $6.9 billion for the National Science Foundation, including an increase of $43 million above fiscal year 2011 for basic scientific research, and $701 million for research and standards work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, including $128 million for Manufacturing Extension Partnerships to increase the competitiveness of the Nation’s manufacturers. An efficient patent process is also critical for innovation and economic growth. The bill provides $2.7 billion for the Patent and Trademark Office, the full estimate of fee collections for fiscal year 2012. Finally, the bill includes over $1 billion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs across NSF, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

  • The committee also included $43 million in additional funding for NSF’s Research and Related Activities Account, one of the few accounts in the bill to receive an increase. The committee expects NSF to prioritize research on cybersecurity, cyber infrastructure and advanced manufacturing in FY 12, as well as place an emphasis on neuroscience. In addition, the committee reminds NSF that it has the authority to fund prize competitions to stimulate research and makes it clear that the $150 million the President requested to fund wireless research under the Wireless Innovation Fund won’t exist unless Congress passes separate legislation to authorize spectrum auctions. Here’s the verbiage:

Research priorities.—The National Science Foundation (NSF) can maximize the amount of money available in fiscal year 2012 for new activities by carrying out the various reduction and termination proposals contained in the R&RA budget request. The funds made available through these reductions and terminations, together with the increase provided by the Committee, will allow NSF to expand or enhance its activities across a range of research areas with significant impacts on national security or economic competitiveness. The Committee directs NSF to prioritize these new activities towards cybersecurity and cyberinfrastructure improvements; advanced manufacturing (as further discussed below); materials research; and disciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the natural and physical sciences, math and engineering.

Advanced manufacturing
.—The Committee encourages NSF’s planned activities related to the Advanced Manufacturing initiative. Future economic prosperity in the United States will depend largely on our ability to develop and manufacture new products based on advanced technologies, both for the domestic market and for export. Basic research supported through the NSF and other Federal science agencies is critical to this effort because it will help provide the foundation for the development of such new products and technologies by the private sector.


Wireless Innovation Fund.—NSF’s request included $150,000,000
of mandatory funding for research on access to the radio spectrum,
wireless testbeds and cyber-physical systems. This funding is dependent on legislation being enacted to authorize incentive auctions that would reallocate Federal agency and commercial spectrum bands over the next ten years.

As we mentioned in the last post, the funding level for NSF in this bill isn’t nearly as good as the President requested, but given the current fiscal uncertainty and the political climate for cutting discretionary spending to the bone, the fact that NSF and NIST fared as well as they did is evidence of the committee’s belief of the importance of federal support for research. We’ll see if the whole House follows suit when the bill makes its way to the floor.

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The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science today released its draft of the FY12 CJS appropriations bill, containing funding for the National Science Foundation at the same level the agency received in FY11. The bill totals over $50 billion for FY12 spending in programs at the Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, NASA, NSF, and other agencies — down $3 billion from FY11 levels, and down more than $7.4 billion from levels requested by the President for FY12. Though NSF holds ground compared to FY11, the committee’s plan for FY12 is well below the President’s requested levels for the agency ($907 million less). While not a good result for NSF — a “flat” budget is essentially a cut when inflation is factored in — it’s also not nearly as bad as it could have been given the current climate and cuts elsewhere within the bill. NASA, for example, would absorb a $1.6 billion cut vs. FY11, if the House appropriators plan is approved.

Though they flat-funded the agency overall, House appropriators included an increase to NSF’s core research account (R&RA) of $43 million compared to FY12 to “enhance basic research that is critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness,” according to a statement released by the committee today. At the same time, the bill calls for cuts to both the Education and Human Resources directorate ($26 million vs. FY11) and Major Research Equipment and Facilities account ($17 million vs. FY11).

The subcommittee is set to mark up the bill tomorrow, where it may undergo further changes. We’ll have the details here as soon as we learn them.

In the meantime, the committee has prepared a summary chart featuring the funding levels contained in the bill for all the major programs, as well as a comparison to FY11 and the President’s FY12 Budget Request.

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