Short Changing Science
Kei Koizumi is the R&D Budget and Policy Program Director American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Courtesy of AAAS)
Despite President Bush’s call last year for an increase in funding for science research, Congress failed to pass a number of federal spending measures, including allocating more money for basic research. Kei Koizumi of the American Association for the Advancement of Science says this will put a financial crunch on thousands of scientists across the country, as well as on big agencies.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Just about a year ago, President Bush announced what he called the “American Competitiveness Initiative,” asking Congress to add billions of additional dollars to fund basic science research.
BUSH: And to keep America competitive one commitment is necessary above all. We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hard working, ambitious people and we’re going to keep that edge. Tonight I announce an American Competitiveness to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation’s children a firm grounding in math and science. First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next ten years. This funding will support the work of America’s most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, super computing, and alternative energy sources.
GELLERMAN: That’s not quite the way it turned out. For the first time in at least thirty years, the federal government will invest less money in basic science research this year than it did in the last. That’s because Congress passed only two out of eleven federal spending bills last year. So departments will get this year what they got last year and when adjusted for inflation, that means less. Kei Koizumi is the chief budget analyst for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It’s the world’s largest science organization.
So Mr. Koizumi, what happened?
KOIZUMI: Well, the last Congress ran out of time. They decided to get out of Washington early before the November elections in the hope, of course, of preserving the Republican majority when that didn’t happen they came back in November. But instead of trying to finish up its business they decided to punt it to the next Congress. So that was a decision they made and I suppose I can understand why they did it but it did represent a failure to do the one thing that Congress has to do each year, which is to pass the federal budget.
KOIZUMI: Well, mostly thousands of individual scientists around the country who apply for federal research grants. It’s becoming a lot more difficult to win research grants. We have scientists who used to have about one in three odds of getting a research grant now face one in five and sometimes 10 percent odds in getting research grants.
GELLERMAN: So which parts of government? Which departments? Which agencies?
KOIZUMI: The agencies that are feeling it the most strongly are the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The National Science Foundation was singled out by President Bush as one of the priority agencies to get more research funding. And it’s because for most disciplines NSF is the primary sponsor of university research. Also the Department of Energy office of science because it’s a heavy supporter of the physical sciences, which are an important part of his American Competitiveness Initiative. So, these two agencies were hoping for a lot of new money to be able to fund new research projects but instead they’re having to deal with a dramatic scale down in their plans.
GELLERMAN: What about the National Institutes of Health?
KOIZUMI: Now NIH had some very good budget years. Between 1998 and 2003 Congress doubled the NIH budget. But since that time NIH funding has been flat. So NIH, although that situation is very difficult, at least has had some time to get used to this new budget reality of not being able to fund all the biomedical research that it would like to.
GELLERMAN: What about research for the Department of Defense? They got their appropriation passed.
KOIZUMI: That’s actually one of the good signs coming out of the last Congress that the DOD did get its final budget so Department of Defense’s support for disciplines like mathematics, computer science, and engineering is moving forward and at a slightly increasing rate. So, we’re optimistic that DOD can make some of the investments in long term science that could pay off eventually in both the civilian economy and of course, the military.
GELLERMAN: What about China’s investment in R&D?
KOIZUMI: Well, when we look abroad we see that China and other Asian nations are getting this link between investments in research and future economic growth. And so the Chinese government, for example, is increasing its R&D investments by 10, 15, 20 percent a year. But now we’re finding that many Asian scientists and engineers are going back to their home countries because the research opportunities are there. And that’s all well and good. But as a nation I think we have to think a little bit carefully about what kinds of research and how much basic scientific research we want happening here in the United States.
GELLERMAN: This seems bad for science funding in the short term, but how did federal agencies like NIH and the National Science Foundation weather federal cuts like this in the past?
KOIZUMI: Well, most federal agencies know that when it comes to budgets there are ups and there are downs. So it’s a matter of survival and most federal agencies will get through this. The question of course is what are the opportunities that are lost or delayed when funding is a stop and start process. Now, maybe we can afford to delay funding basic physical sciences funding for a year or two. But clearly we seem to recognize as a nation that when it comes to our future US economy it’s time to move forward and to make the investments now so that a couple years from now we will have the knowledge necessary to compete in the world economy. And maybe that’s not something that we can afford to delay.
GELLERMAN: Kei Koizumi is director of R&D budget and policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Mr. Koizumi thank you very much.
KOIZUMI: Thank you.
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