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.

Don’t let the bipartisanship of science go the way of the dinosaur

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.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho: U.S. Needs Strong R&D Portfolio to Remain Globally Competitive

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3rd-FL) writes in support of science in APS’ Capitol Hill Newsletter. Read the piece:

 

 

Extending Nuclear Power Plant Licenses Would Help U.S. Reach Clean Energy Goals

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University of Texas (Austin) Physics Professor Roy Schwitters and Chairman Emeritus John W. Rowe, of Exelon Corp., make the case for extending the licenses of nuclear power plants in today’s Hill newspaper. Read the op-ed.

More Scientists Needed in Congress

 

Later this year, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, of New Jersey, will retire from Congress after nearly two decades as a champion of science.

His retirement will leave a big void and leave only one scientist in Congress, Rep. Bill Foster, of Illinois.

History has shown us that scientists bring their invaluable and much-needed technical expertise to the legislative process. The recently proposed FIRST bill, as noted in Michael S. Lubell’s Roll Call column, is the latest example of why more scientists are needed in Congress.

 

APS March Meeting Contact Congress

Q: What’s the best-spent minute at the March Meeting?
 
A: Stopping by the Contact Congress booth to sign your name to letters to your Congressional delegation on the importance of federal funding for basic research. It takes only a minute. By doing so, you are making your voice heard in Washington and helping to influence the funding levels for physics research and education. To amplify the impact, the APS Washington Office follows up each letter with a call or visit to congressional staff.
 
The strongest and most persuasive advocates on Capitol Hill come from a Senator or Representative’s constituents. That means you! If you live in the United States, you are qualified to write to your members of Congress.
Contact Congress is overseen by the APS Washington Office. If you have any questions about what is happening in D.C., just stop by the Contact Congress desk to ask the experts.
 
Contact Congress Hours:
Monday, March 3 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Tuesday, March 4 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Wednesday, March 5 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Thursday March 6 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Friday, March 7 – 9:00-12:00pm
 
Contact Congress Location:
Convention Center, F Lobby

Budget Deal Provides Stability

Let’s break out the inexpensive bottle of champagne and have a moderate celebration for the success of the “Ryan-Murray” budget agreement.  The deal undid much of the damage from the sequester, and there is a modest chance for stability with the return to “regular order.”

The Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Omnibus spending bill was recently signed into law in a bipartisan fashion. The House passed the bill 359-67, and the Senate adopted it by 72-26.  While neither party got exactly what it wanted, each was happy to have achieved a result that could pave the way for a less chaotic budget process in the coming year. 

The question is, sifting among the details of the FY14 Omnibus bill, how did the scientific accounts fare?  The answer ranges from poor to exceedingly well depending on the account and how you interpret the numbers. 

For example, Fusion Energy Sciences at Department of Energy (DOE) got a significant boost of 26 percent over the FY12 appropriated levels, effectively reviving Alcator C-Mod and funding ITER at the same time, although not quite at the previously planned level of $225M.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, did not manage to reverse the sequester cuts, falling about $800M below FY12 levels.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) did receive an increase over FY12 levels, but the increase in the FY14 budget was not as large compared to other areas in the budget.  

The big picture is that historically, federal investment in scientific research is 10 percent of non-defense discretionary funding.  Since 2010, overall discretionary spending has decreased about $165B.  Thanks to strong advocacy from the scientific community, overall spending for scientific research has not decreased as much relative to discretionary spending (overall spending has decreased 13.6 percent and scientific research spending has decreased 12.3 percent).  In other words, advocacy efforts have continued to keep science as a bipartisan investment that most in Congress recognize as important to future U.S. economic competitiveness. 

How does this budget affect the average researcher? 

Well, grant success rates won’t be drastically altered due to the new budget deal.  The FY14 numbers are far better than the feared continued effect of sequester, including the loss of grants. But, the budget number do not represent a substantive step forward either.  The scientific community needs to continue to push toward a new paradigm where federal funding of scientific research is increased to keep pace with our competitors.  

Of importance to DOE researchers is a new grant funding model being employed by DOE.  Grants of less than a million dollars will be fully funded up to three years.  This means that there will be a period of readjustment for the next two years where fewer new grants are funded in order to fully transition to the new model of funding.

The details in the new FY14 spending bill are as follows, with percent change from appropriated FY12 levels in parentheses:

NSF is funded at $7.20B in FY14 (+2.4%).  The Research & Related Activities account is being funded at $5.81B (+1.5%), a slight disappointment relative to increases seen in other parts of the budget.  The education portion of NSF, termed Education & Human Resources, is funded at $846M (+2.1%). 

Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science is funded at $5.07B (+3.9%).  The Advanced Scientific Computing Research initiative is funded at $478M (+8.1%), Basic Energy Sciences at $1.71B (+1.3%), Biological and Environmental Research is funded at $610M (-0.4%), Fusion Energy Science is funded at $505M (+25.7%) with $200M of that set aside for ITER, High Energy Physics is funded at $797M (+0.8%), and Nuclear Physics is funded at $569M (+3.6%).

The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewables (EER-E) and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) are funded at $1.91B (+5.1%) and $280M (+1.8%), respectively.  The National Nuclear Security agency is funded at $12.13B (+5.4%).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Science and Technical Research and Services is funded at $651M (+14.8%), Construction of Research Facilities is funded at $56M (+1.8%), and the Industrial Technology Services is funded at $143M (+11.7%).

National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) Science is funded at $5.15B (+1.1%).  Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope was included with strict instructions that the overall budget is not to exceed $8B.  Also, NASA is prohibited from engaging bilaterally with China, a continued restriction that has caused some confusion as to the extent of the ban.

NIH was funded at a rather disappointing $29.90B (-2.5%), which is ~$800M less than in FY12. 

Finally, the Office of Science and Technology of the President was funded at $5.5M (+23.4%).

 

APS President Malcolm R. Beasley Commends President Obama’s Support of Science

APS President Malcolm R. Beasley recently sent a letter to President Obama applauding his support of long-term, scientific research as outlined in the recent State of the Union Address.

Read the letter.

APS Supports Passage of FY 14 Appropriations Bill, Which Reverses Some Cuts Under Sequestration

APS is pleased the recently passed FY 14 omnibus appropriations bill reversed some cuts under sequestration and was passed in Congress by bipartisan majorities.

Read statement by Task Force on American Innovation.

Washington Post op-ed cites APS report, Renewing Licenses for the Nation’s Nuclear Power Plants

Four nuclear power plants, sources of low-emissions electricity, announced closings last year. If plants continue to shut down instead of extending operations, the nation risks losing 60 percent of its clean electricity starting in 2030, according to a new APS report, “Renewing Licenses for the Nation’s Nuclear Power Plants.”nuclearpowerpic

“Nuclear power plants provide the nation with a source of clean energy at a time when renewables such as solar and wind are not yet ready to fill the potential gap in the nation’s base power needs created by the loss of nuclear power,” said Roy Schwitters, chair of the APS report.

That sentiment was echoed in a recent Washington Post op-ed by Stephen Stromberg, an editorial writer at the Post.

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