April 7, 2011

U.S. House Budget Plans Would Jeopardize National Scientific Research Facilities

Government Shutdown would hurt America’s Spirit of Innovation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It is important that the United States begin to live within its means and address the federal deficit. But APS believes that as a nation we need to be smart about how we do it. Cutting spending across the board without a clear understanding of what it means for America's future jeopardizes the very future we want to secure for our children.

For more than half a century, science and technology have been the primary drivers of job creation and economic growth. Slashing spending on science, as the budget plans of the House of Representatives call for, is bad policy and bad economics. The cuts contained in the bill H.R. 1 – the legislative vehicle for funding the government for the balance of the fiscal year – would eliminate almost $1 billion from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science budget.

Such a reduction would force all Department of Energy user facilities to shut down operations, lay off or fire as many as 10,000 technical workers, send thousands of construction workers home without pay and force 26,000 scientists and engineers in virtually every congressional district in the country to end their research or take it to other countries.

The national laboratories are the home to approximately 40 “user facilities,” which are vital to the research performed by scientists and engineers in companies and universities throughout the nation. The specialized instruments represent a federal investment of tens of billions of dollars and have paid handsome dividends for many years. Shutting them down wastes taxpayer money and jeopardizes America’s spirit of innovation.

According to the National User Facility Organization, which represents the 30,000 scientists, engineers and students who conduct research at the national laboratories, closing the facilities would have a devastating effect on America’s ability to remain a global scientific leader.

“The impact of any facility shutdown on our students is very grave since most of those sophisticated experiments were planned and scheduled for several years,” said Rene Bellwied, professor of physics at the University of Houston and chair of NUFO. “Losing access to the experimental facilities will mean a loss of at least months or even years of research for many of our young people.”

Companies such as Eli Lily, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Intel and IBM rely on the national facilities to help them develop new consumer products, new energy technologies and drug therapies for curing diseases.

“If there are reductions in the operations of the Advanced Photon Source, we will consider other options, including the possibility of conducting our research overseas,” said Stephen Wasserman, a chemist at Eli Lilly Co. who uses the Advanced Photon Source at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Wasserman’s research consists of studying protein structures that help the company develop future pharmaceuticals.

In a related action, the Fiscal Year 2012 House Budget Resolution, released by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday, would set the stage for making the Office of Science cuts permanent, endangering the U.S. science enterprise for years to come. If the U.S. wants to build a better America, it must make scientific research and innovation priorities.

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About APS

The American Physical Society is a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 53,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.