APS News

APS Statement on Federal R&D Presented to Senate Committee

At its April meeting, the APS Executive Board approved a statement regarding federal investments in research and development, presented at an April 28 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space by APS President Andrew Sessler. The action was a continuation of recent APS efforts on behalf of science funding, including a prior statement approved by the Board last fall in support of the bipartisan National Research Investment Act (S.1305) (see APS News, January 1998). The text of the statement as read before the Senate Committee follows.

Our support for a comprehensive increase in federal research investments is based upon the following key points:
  • Federal investment in research increases economic growth and keeps the nation on the path to a balanced budget. Economic analyses show that since the end of World War II, technology has accounted for more than half of all economic growth in the U.S. Today, increased productivity, driven by technological innovation, receives much of the credit for sustaining the current expansion, which is characterized by low inflation and low unemployment. Federal investments in research increase economic growth and keep the nation on the balanced budget path.
  • Federal investment in research sustains technological innovation. Almost 75 percent of the citations listed in U.S. industrial patent applications reference publicly supported research. The cause is clear: American industry has been forced to shorten its research time horizons and to adopt risk-adverse R&D strategies. The result is that the federal government has become the steward for almost all long-term, high-risk research, which is now performed by universities and national laboratories.
  • Science is the underpinning of technological progress. Indeed, basic research, according to economists such as Stanford's Michael Boskin and the late Edwin Madsfield of the University of Pennsylvania, provide extraordinary social returns on the federal investment. Estimates run between 20% and 60%.
  • Tomorrow's technology is based upon today's research. Although some efficiencies in research have shortened the time to market, many time horizons still run one, two or more decades from research proposal to marketable product. Much of the extraordinary technological growth we have witnessed during the last ten years is based upon research ideas first explored 20 or 30 years ago.
  • The federal investment in research has been declining by most relevant measures. For FY1997, only 1.9% of the federal budget was allocated to non-defense R&D, compared to more than 5.7% about 30 years ago. As a fraction of the GDP, the federal investment in research is less than half of what it was 30 years ago.
  • Scientific disciplines have become thoroughly intertwined and completely interdependent. Progress in one area invariably requires supporting work from other areas. Examples abound: HIV protease inhibitors were synthesized by pharmaceutical companies based on the structure of HIV protease determined by biologists, using physicists' x-ray diffraction techniques; neural network computing algorithms find their origin in brain studies performed by neurobiologists; and MRI, the least invasive and most precise medical imaging diagnostic tool, comes from research carried out by physicists, chemists and mathematicians.
  • Revolutionary scientific discovery often originates from research that is neither driven by strategic mission nor closely coupled to planned strategic outcomes. The laser, which traces its genesis to the arcane study of optical pumping, is a prime example. Today's corporate climate would make such research almost impossible. It could not be justified to stockholders and it would be inconsistent with the ruthlessness of global competition.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin