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Rene Bellwied | USLHC | USA

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Finally – a stimulus for science ?

The two chambers of the American Congress, the House and the Senate, are working their way through separate stimulus bills that total $819 Billion in each case. But the devil is in the details and if you look for funds to stimulate science, which would make a lot of sense in these days, because of the obvious link between science education, research and development on one side and the economy on the other side, the two bills are quite different. Effectively each package vows to support three science oriented funding agencies, the DOE Office of Science, NSF and NIST. Here I will only comment on the DOE and NSF proposals, because these are the agencies that predominantly support high energy and nuclear science.

In the house version, which passed yesterday amidst a very partisan vote, the DOE Office of Science can expect a $1.9 Billion increase, and NSF will receive a $3 Billion increase compared to last year’s continuing resolution. Now that budget was already considerably below the projected science funding agreed upon in the America Competes Act in 2007. So it might make more sense to compare the numbers to the projections of the America Competes Act. In this case the increase for the DOE would be around $700 Million and the increase for NSF $1.7 Billion, still sizable numbers that pass as real stimulus.

On the Senate side though, these allocations were seriously curtailed. The Senate proposes an additional $430 Million for the DOE and an additional $1.4 Billion for NSF compared to the continuing resolution. This is in effect an additional $141 Million for NSF compared to the America Competes level, but a de-facto reduction of $752 Million for the DOE compared to the America Competes Act. 

I think in general all my colleagues are very excited about the prospects of a stimulus package for science. But we also view our work in research and education as a central part of getting the economy back on track, and it is worrisome to see that these allocations, which should be at the heart of every stimulus or recovery package, are considered low priority and negotiable. The House numbers were reasonable and based on detailed input by large organizations such as the American Physical Society, the Association of American Universities and the Task Force for the Future of American Innovation. The relative cuts in the Senate bill seem less well motivated and one needs to see whether the House numbers could potentially be restored in conference. The DOE funding is of particular relevance to high energy and nuclear physics. The proposed $430 Million in the Senate bill are largely assigned to infra-structure projects and thus will not lead to additional grant money for research and educational groups or Frontier Research Centers as planned in the House Bill.

The American Physical Society initiated yet another letter writing campaign in order to convince your senators and house representatives that additional funding for science is well targeted and effective in getting the economy going. You can find pre-written letters at:

http://www.congressweb.com/cweb4/index.cfm?orgcode=apspa&hotissue=81

http://www.congressweb.com/cweb4/index.cfm?orgcode=apspa&hotissue=82

Let’s just hope that in all the partisan wrangling about who is serving the people best, one essential piece of actual sensible stimulus does not fall prey to ignorance. Money for science education and research is not ‘pork’, it never has been and it never will be.

 

 
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