Roll Call’s Morton Kondracke writes in an OpEd (sub. req’d) that Congress must act to increase federal support for fundamental research or risk future competitiveness. The good news is, he notes, is that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, Commerce committee, appears to be up to the challenge.
Wolf, who has led Congressional campaigns against gambling and has focused national attention on religious persecution and other human rights violations around the world, is now putting together an agenda to reverse America’s decline in science.
On April 12, he and two House colleagues – accompanied by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) – announced the introduction of legislation to have the U.S. government pay the interest on undergraduate loans for students who agree to work in science, math or engineering for a five-year period.
Wolf also favors holding a blue-ribbon national conference on technology, trade and manufacturing where leaders of industry would highlight the danger to U.S. leadership. He wants to triple funding for federal basic-science programs over a period of years.
Wolf told me in an interview, rather diplomatically, that “I personally believe that [the Bush administration is] underfunding science. Not purposefully. I think we have a deficit problem, and previous administrations have underfunded it also.”
Gingrich is less diplomatic. “I am totally puzzled by what they’ve done with the basic-research budget,” he told me. “As a national security conservative and as a world trade-economic competition conservative, I cannot imagine how they could have come up with this budget.”
He continued: “There’s no point in arguing with them internally. They’re going to do what they are going to do. But I think if this Congress does not substantially raise the research budget, we are unilaterally disarming from the standpoint of international competition.”
Much of the credit for influencing Wolf’s position has to go to the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation (of which CRA is a member). Their Benchmarks of Our Innovation Future (pdf) report seems to be resonating well with congressional offices, and special efforts to reach out to Wolf (who has been very receptive) seem to be paying off.
Now the trick is to turn that enthusiasm into real appropriations — something that remains a real challenge in current budget environment. We’ll keep you posted.