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Just after the new year, 32 scientific societies banded together to jointly send a letter to President Bush, calling on him to "reverse the decline in science and engineering support that threatens our status as the world's leader in these areas, placing our nation at great future risk." The letter cites the Bush Administration's stated top policy priorities for the coming year - national security and job creation-and notes that "achieving them will require continued advances in science and technology across disciplines. The federal government must take steps to strengthen its support of science and engineering research, many aspects of which have suffered significant declines for more than a decade."
The genesis of the letter dates to late last year, when Michael Lubell, APS director of public affairs, spoke with colleagues at several other professional societies about their mutual concerns regarding the discrepancy between rhetoric from the Bush Administration on the need for increased federal funding for the physical sciences and engineering, and the actual funding levels in the FY 2001/FY2002 presidential budget requests. "We found that there was little in either budget that suggested the kind of attention the administration said needed to be paid," says Lubell.
To call attention to this discrepancy, a working group was formed with representatives from the APS, the American Chemical Society, the American Astronomical Society, the American Mathematical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular biology, and the IEEE to draft the letter. That draft was then circulated to numerous scientific societies, revised, and recirculated. Despite the short time frame and the holiday season, 32 societies ultimately agreed to sign the letter. And Lubell believes that the letter was perfectly timed: negotiations on the FY2004 science budgets were not resolved until January 13th. "So the letter was sent just when [the Office of Management and Budget] was making its hard decisions," he says.
"We felt we had a compelling case," says Lubell, pointing to a recent draft report, "Assessing the U.S. R&D Investment" by PCAST, and the RAND report, "Federal Investment in R&D." Both reports are cited in the letter and both point out the harm that a continued downward trend in federal funding for the physical sciences and engineering would have, both on research and the future S&T workforce. Continued reductions, the letter states, "would make it difficult to maintain an appropriate balance of funding for individual investigators and large projects, for core programs and initiatives, for universities and national laboratories, and for major equipment or instrumentation and research operations."
However, despite the president's signature on H.R. 4664, the NSF Authorization Act, FY2004 funding levels for the agency in draft appropriations legislation currently in conference are significantly lower than specified in that bill, according to Lubell. The NSF is slated for a 10% increase in research funding and a 6.5% increase overall, compared to the 15% research increase and 10-14% increase for the agency overall contained in H.R. 4664. Other agencies, particularly the Department of Energy, fare even worse. [See Inside the Beltway]
Assessing the impact of the January 3 letter to President Bush is difficult, but Lubell believes the letter was certainly noticed, and that it is critical for the scientific community to continue to voice its concerns - even though, with a Republican-controlled Congress beholden to the White House, some feel such efforts would be moot. "If we don't express our point of view, who will?" Lubell contends. "If we're silent, it will suggest that we agree with what is being done. In my judgment, that would be not only inappropriate for the scientific community, but also makes for bad government. Leaders need to hear a diversity of opinion. They will ultimately make their own choices, but we must give them input."
The complete text of the letter can be viewed online at www.aps.org/publications/apsnews.
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