Federal funding of scientific research was once a bipartisan enterprise in Washington. However, much to the chagrin of the science community, times are changing. Under increasing spending constraints and the politicizing of certain areas of science, including climate change and social and behavioral sciences, that bipartisan support is not nearly as strong as it once was.
For example, the lack of bipartisanship shown in recent Dear Colleague letters reinforces my point. The letters are used to encourage support of or opposition to a specific issue or bill. Dear Colleague letters are typically sent between congressional members. Regarding science funding, congressional members recently signed multiple Dear Colleague letters and sent them to representatives and senators who serve on the appropriations committee.
In the House, two letters were sent to the committee, one regarding general support for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and another asking that $7.5B be appropriated to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in FY15. In the Senate, there was a companion NSF letter also requesting $7.5B for NSF in FY15.
So, why the comment that the bipartisan support once enjoyed by science has decreased?
Well, the Senate NSF Dear Colleague only managed to gather 21 signatures, all of them Democrat. In the House, the NSF Dear Colleague letter garnered 132 signatures, just two from Republicans and the rest from Democrats. The DOE SC letter had similar results, with 81 members signing, five Republicans and 76 Democrats.
Contrast this with Dear Colleague letters circulated during 2006-07 fiscal year in support of President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. At that time, Dear Colleague letters on the issue of science funding typically gathered about 30 percent of signatures from Republicans and about 70 percent from Democrats. In just a few short years, we have gone from significant input from both sides of the aisle to an almost entirely one-sided affair.
While the state of current affairs is troubling, we can still take action. The APS Office of Public Affairs will continue to make you aware of opportunities to call your congressional representatives and senators regarding signing future Dear Colleague letters. Additionally, the office will continue to work with both political parties to promote bipartisanship in science.