Tea Party Excess Threatens High-Tech Success

In my latest Roll Call column, I point out that the Tea Party’s political tactics are threatening our nation’s scientific enterprise:

The government shutdown and threatened financial default may seem so yesterday, given the Obamacare rollout mess. But the tea party’s October call to conservative arms is having a persisting, pernicious effect, even though the media and Wall Street seem to have moved on.

What I have in mind, particularly, is the sequester’s impact on science, the generator of America’s future economic growth.

In the Senate, where a modicum of bipartisanship and sanity still remain, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has assumed the mantle of GOP leadership on innovation. His recent gutsy call for increased federal investments in research comes as his former South Carolina colleague, Jim DeMint, has been pressuring Republicans from his perch atop The Heritage Foundation to focus on taming the federal deficit to the exclusion of almost everything else.

The Heritage drumbeat has considerable traction in the House, where DeMint’s acolytes are inhibiting even the smallest attempts by Republican authorizers on the Science, Space and Technology Committee to address America’s flagging research enterprise.

Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, should take a cue from the other Lamar and challenge the tea party to do battle over federal science spending. He might lose the initial skirmish, but he will come out the ultimate victor because the past is on his side.

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U.S. Sen. Alexander to Congress: ‘Finish the job’ of doubling research budgets outlined in America COMPETES

At a time when Congress has failed to prioritize funding levels for long-term scientific research, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has rightly called upon his colleagues in Congress to “finish the job” of doubling research budgets set forth in the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which overwhelmingly passed Congress in a bipartisan manner.
Read Sen. Alexander’s remarks in the press release below:

Alexander: “Finish the Job” of Doubling Basic Research to Keep Americans’ “High Standard of Living”

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today urged members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to “finish the job” Congress started in “an overwhelming, remarkable, bipartisan way in 2007 to double the budgets of basic research at major research institutions in the federal government.”

Testifying at the committee’s hearing on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, Alexander said that “it’s hard to think of” a technological advance since World War II that hasn’t drawn some support from government-sponsored research – from the Internet to new technology that would make liquid fuel out of carbon from coal plants. He urged his fellow senators to advance three goals:
• Allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to double the federal government’s investment in basic research
• Reduce waste among duplicate programs
• Reauthorize necessary programs

“Governing is about setting priorities,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of other people in the world who have good brains. There are a lot of other people in the world who work hard. They see we’ve got 22 percent of all the money in the world each year for just 5 percent of the people, and they want a bigger share. So if we want to keep our high standard of living, I suggest that we finish the job.”

The America COMPETES Act was originally passed under President Bush, with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate serving as lead cosponsors, both before and after the Senate switched from Republican to Democratic control, Alexander said. Ultimately the legislation’s cosponsors included 38 Democrats, 30 Republicans and one Independent senator. Of the “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Alexander said: “We’d never seen anything like it.”

America COMPETES grew out of the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report on American competitiveness, written by a commission headed by former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norm Augustine. The legislation set out to double the federal government’s investment in basic research, including math, the physical sciences and engineering. That research is done at institutions including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Science and Technology and the Office of Science. America COMPETES also created ARPA-E, an agency that supports research in energy technology.

Currently about 4 percent of the U.S. government’s $3.6 trillion budget goes toward government-sponsored research, which Alexander said is small compared to China investing 4 percent of its entire gross domestic product as it competes with other countries. Alexander said increasing research is important to ensuring that America continues to produce 22 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, with a little less than 5 percent of the population.

Alexander said the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as the full Senate, should ultimately authorize the Appropriations Committee to complete the doubling of that research. While doing so, the Senate should reauthorize necessary programs, Alexander said, and eliminate any duplication of programs, at a time when “we don’t have any money to waste.”

The senator provided several examples of technological advances that have allowed “our free enterprise system” to create America’s high standard of living. One example outside of America COMPETES is DARPA, the military research agency that has funded research leading to the Internet, stealth technology, speech recognition technology and global positioning systems.

Alexander said a “cousin” of DARPA is ARPA-E, a research agency created under America COMPETES that has found a way to double the capacity of lithium-ion batteries for cars. It is also developing a method of creating liquid fuel from carbon dioxide, which would allow for the commercial use of waste from coal plants in the creation of new energy.

Alexander noted that it’s “hard to think of an important technological advance” that has not involved some government-sponsored research since World War II.

APS President Michael Turner on The Government Shutdown and Impacts on Science



In response to the federal government shutdown, APS President Michael Turner has written a statement for the Record as part of a hearing held Oct. 11 by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  The hearing focused on the economic impacts of the government shutdown. Turner’s statement addressed the impact to the physical science community.  Such statements for the record are included in the official hearing record.

Turner noted that at least four Nobel laureates in physics have been furloughed because of their federal employment, and all 17 of DOE’s Office of Science national laboratories will begin shutting down as carryover money runs out.  More recent information indicates that they are all likely to shut down by Oct. 31. This means that nearly all lab employees will be furloughed and user facilities shut down, denying access to the 50,000 scientists around the country. Turner also noted the impact of the shutdown on graduate students like Laura Gladstone, whose work on the University of Wisconsin-Madison “IceCube” experiment is in jeopardy because of the shutdown of the National Science Foundation and its Antarctic program.

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), underscored that the shutdown has added insult to injury to the scientific community; it has “already been hit very hard by the ‘sequester,’ which comes as an overlay on federal science budgets that already, pre-sequester, have been in decline.”  He added that “these realities are coming at the same time as other countries are dramatically increasing their research and development investments, in spite of similar economic conditions, responding to the clear relationship between a nation’s research capacity, its economic strength, and the well-being of its people.”

As negotiations between the White House and Congress drag on for a 15th day, the impacts on the scientific community will no doubt continue to multiply.

2013 Nobel Prize in Physics Announcement

Peter HiggsFrancois Englert

This year’s Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Francois Englert at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and Peter Higgs from the University of Edinburough, for developing the theories of the Higgs field and Higgs boson. Collectively, their research explained why elementary particles have mass and provided the foundation for the Standard Model of particle physics that unifies the weak and electromagnetic forces.

Read entire APS announcement.

APS President Michael Turner congratulates the Nobel Laureates, CERN (the laboratory where the Higgs particle was discovered), physics and all of science.  Read his letter to Rolf Heuer, director general of CERN. 

Scientific Enterprise Hangs in Balance Following Federal Government Shutdown

More than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed yesterday after Congress failed to pass a budget to fund the 2014 fiscal year.  As the nation wonders about the next steps to solve the crisis, the U.S. scientific enterprise hangs in the balance.

In the meantime, APS wants to know how the shutdown is affecting your critically important scientific research. Share your stories with us by emailing opa@aps.org.

For more information about the shutdown, read the AIP Science Policy Bulletin: http://www.aip.org/fyi/2013/143.html.

Shutdown threatens science

A government shutdown will stop crucial scientific projects and delay new technologies, resulting in the loss of jobs for Americans.  Read Kenneth Rudinger’s column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlining a few scientific achievements and why a shutdown threatens continued discovery.

Senate Passes Helium Bill: Action by September 30 Deadline Still Not Assured


On September 19, the Senate took an important step forward in voting to pass a substitute amendment to H.R. 527, its version of a helium bill.  The vote, 97-2, underscored the fact that ensuring a continuous supply of helium from the Federal Reserve is not a partisan issue but an issue of national concern.

The legislative victory is the result of countless meetings, prodding and advocacy carried out not only by the APS, but also the hard work and dedication of a coalition of end users.  The end users, including those in the medical imaging and semiconductor communities, have formed a cohesive advocacy force that can take a lot of credit for the victory in the Senate.

But, it’s not over yet.

Until the House acts on the Senate bill, the clock continues to tick down to Sept. 30, at which time the Bureau of Land Management begins shutting down operations for the helium pipeline.  So, we need to keep the pressure on.  As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Cutting Science Funding Starves Future Generations

The United States needs to wake up to the following reality: It is in the process of undermining the foundation of future economic growth, which in no small measure depends on science, education and infrastructure.  Read my column in today’s Roll Call newspaper, outlining how the U.S. is losing its global scientific leadership.

Averting the Helium Cliff

Congress has just six legislative days to approve legislation preventing the shutdown of the federal helium reserve operated in Amarillo, Texas by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

It’s really a no-brainer.

Helium benefits Americans who need MRIs (it is necessary to operate the machines), and the crucial gas plays a major role in the fabrication of semiconductors produced by high-tech manufacturers such as Texas Instruments, Intel, Samsung, Siemens, Qualcomm and General Electric. It is also vital for conducting research in many scientific fields.

If Congress fails to pass legislation averting the reserve shutdown, a loss of helium could hurt jobs and the U.S. economy, delay MRI treatments and cripple scientific research.

Supporters of legislation, including scientific societies, high-tech industries and universities, recently wrote to House and Senate leaders, asking them to approve legislation and send it to the president before Oct. 1.

The smart thing to do is to get the legislation passed before it’s too late.

The following is the letter to House and Senate leaders:

Sept. 9, 2013

The Honorable John A. Boehner, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
The Honorable Mitch McConnell,  Senate Republican Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Leader Reid and Leader McConnell:

The undersigned companies and organizations, representing a broad range of U.S. industry and research entities that contribute to America’s economic and scientific leadership, request that Congress act urgently to approve legislation to secure the helium supply and send this legislation to the President before October 1.

Helium is an essential input into large number of manufacturing processes and a key material for the scientific research community, and a significant number of jobs, economic output, and exports from the United States depend on a continuous supply of helium. Helium is also critical to products and systems that support our national defense and homeland security, and it is needed to operate the thousands of MRI devices that play a key role in our health care system.

Congress must act immediately to avert a shortage of this essential commodity. Under existing law, the Federal Helium Reserve – a federal facility that provides approximately 50 percent of domestic supplies of helium – will no longer be authorized after October 7 to sell to private entities that help drive our economy. The House has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill (H.R. 527), and the Senate is considering bipartisan legislation (S. 783). It is imperative that Congress act in advance of this deadline.

Science and Defense Suffer Due to Sequestration

As sequestration continues, so does the harmful effect it has on scientific research, which has led to numerous life-saving innovations, including armored vehicles that protect our troops from improvised explosive devices. Robert Freihaut, a former engineer with General Dynamics Land Systems, recently wrote about the important connection between science and America’s defense capability in the Detroit News.

Read the piece.



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