Science agency directors make strong case for research and education during Senate Innovation hearing

Spring typically marks appropriations season on Capitol Hill. With the Ryan-Murray budget agreement only increasing the discretionary budget by about $19 billion above sequester-level spending, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are again left with the difficult task of deciding how to best spend limited funds.

The Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments” held April 27 on Capitol Hill provided the nation’s research and development (R&D) community a platform to make their case for increased support of our nation’s basic science funding agencies…and they delivered.

An all-star lineup of science agency directors provided testimony and answered committee members’ questions, communicating the enormous benefits federal investments in scientific research have had on society. But the directors also warned that inconsistent funding patterns threaten our ability to make the next set of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries.

The panel was comprised of Office of Science and Technology Director John Holdren; Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; National Science Foundation Director France Córdova; National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins; and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Arati Prabhakar.

The panelists’ comments were echoed by more than 130 organizations, including the American Physical Society (APS), which submitted written testimony for the hearing authored by APS President Malcolm Beasley on behalf of the society’s 50,000 members.

The overwhelming support for increased federal expenditures for research and development from the business, higher education and scientific communities had members on both sides of the political aisle nodding their heads. Committee Chairwoman Mikulski’s (D-MD) commented on America’s “innovation deficit,” a recently coined term gaining traction on the Hill, and her views aligned with those expressed by the panel and outside testimonies.

“While we have been focused on cutting spending and squeezing investments, America’s innovation deficit has grown. Budget cuts can’t come at the expense of growth-inducing investments that drive scientific, medical and defense innovation,” she said in her opening statement.

That sentiment was bookended when her counterpart, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), noted in his closing statement that while budgets are constrained, we are not spending enough on basic research.

Shelby stated, “We are leaving a lot of ideas and perhaps breakthroughs on the table. And we can’t afford that as a nation.”

The APS Office of Public Affairs will continue to advocate for robust and sustained federal funding for scientific research and to provide APS members opportunities to have their voices heard. APS is an active member of three coalitions – the Innovation Task Force, the Energy Sciences Coalition, and the Coalition for National Science Funding – engaging Congress and the Administration on the issue. Additionally, more than 1,400 APS members have participated in our Contact Congress campaign at this year’s March and April Meetings.

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