With the journey to progress started by the Omnibus last year, the scientific community breathed a collective – albeit small – sigh of relief. The agreement signaled that science-related agencies would be relieved from the disruption of damaging cutbacks, program delays, and costly shutdowns, allowing them to carry on with their important work. And critical agencies such as NASA, NOAA, NSF and USGS would be able to begin to recover from the debilitating impacts of years of underfunding.
On the surface, the President’s budget proposal looks like an aspirational effort to continue that journey. Science has a game changing legacy of driving our economy and improving our quality of life, and the President has long stated his support for treating investments in science as investments in our collective future. By including strategic investments in water resources, climate resilience and STEM education, his budget proposal seemingly reinforces that position.
However, when you look beneath the surface of his proposal you quickly see that its reliance on mandatory spending mechanisms requires a level of bipartisan support within Congress that simply is not possible in our current political climate. While he has pledged a more than $6.2 billion increase over FY16 for research and development, the reality is that only $2.2 billion of that falls outside of the mandatory spending . . . which stands little to no chance of ever making out of Congress. That means the actual increase in investment would be around 1.5 percent, a rate that won’t even keep pace with inflation.
While we continue to appreciate the President’s efforts, we also recognize that the nation won’t be able to reap the benefits scientific innovation can offer unless more is done. It’s time for Congress to recognize the value science brings to our economy, our global competitiveness and our public safety, and treat it accordingly by making investments in R&D and STEM education a priority in the budget.
The hundreds of millions of Americans, and businesses stretching from Wall Street to Main Street, who rely on federally-supported science programs deserve nothing less.