The 700 Billion Dollar government bailout of struggling financial institutions in the U.S. will likely soon cast its shadow over government funded science projects. Steve mentioned in his blog last week that things are happening already ‘under the radar’ in Washington that might affect us greatly. As a first step the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of a continuing resolution rather than a real budget until March 09, when the new administration will be in place. The continuing resolution for science funding was frozen to the level of the 2008 budget without any provisions to include the supplemental funding that was late in the year appropriated in order to keep large projects such a Fermilab afloat. So it is expected that, by the beginning of 2009, some of the major U.S. National Laboratories will be in dire financial trouble again . The impact on beam times, experiment operation and new projects etc. can not even be estimated yet.
There is very little chance that the America Competes act, which asked for doubling the NSF and DoE budgets over the next ten years, can be enacted in these times when presidential candidates are already indicating that their most pressing programs, such as health care, might take a backseat to finding 700 Billion Dollars in the budget that is already weakened by extensive war expenditures.
We need to mobilize the community. We need to make sure that Washington understands that a slowing down of scientific enterprises and government funded research and development will directly lead to a slowing down of the economy and in the long run to a halt of scientific ingenuity, which was the driving force behind much of the market boom in the 90′s, and for that matter throughout the past century. This is not the time to save on science. This is the time to make science innovation one of the pillars of the evolving re-structuring of the market economy.
If you want to help and you are a scientist in the U.S., please join a user group and stay in touch with their outreach efforts. There is, for example, the US-LHC users group (https://www.usluo.org) or the users group at RHIC (http://www.rhicuec.org). All major user groups are part of the National User Facility Organization (http://www.nufo.org), an outreach organization which has, in part, been formed to facilitate more communication between users at national science facilities and lawmakers in Washington. You can also volunteer to become part of a NUFO list that organizes meetings between congressional leaders and scientists in your specific congressional district. Just send information to email@example.com. If you are a concerned citizen please make yourself heard by communicating with your local representative in the House and the Senate.
There might be difficult times ahead for federal funding of basic research. We need to get involved in the process and convince our politicians of something that many major business leaders know for a long time: There is no economic future without scientific innovation. And this innovation often comes form the most fundamental research projects worldwide. The LHC will be a perfect example.