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Importance of Federal Support for Science Research

On May 8th, Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted an event on “Investing in the Nation’s Future – A Renewed Commitment to Federal Science Funding” in partnership with The Science Coalition. Eric K. Fanning, the President and CEO of Aerospace Industries Association and former Secretary of the Army, offered opening remarks stressing government funded research is essential to ensuring we can continue to lead the world. He expressed concern that our nation’s ability to invest in research will continue to be at risk if after the recent bipartisan budget agreement sunsets, the Budget Control Act caps return in Fiscal Year 2020 resulting in funding for research taking a big hit. He went on to emphasize that we must renew the federal commitment to scientific research with sustained funding for both basic and applied research.

Following Fanning’s remarks, BPC’s president Jason Grumet moderated an expert panel that included:

  • Mark S. Berry, Vice President of Environmental and Natural Resources at Georgia Power;
  • John Keller, interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development and Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Education at the University of Iowa;
  • Michael L. Telson, Vice President for Energy programs at General Atomics; and
  • Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research and E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at MIT.

Key themes throughout the panel discussion were the need for consistent funding and investment in research, the importance of government research, and American competitiveness.

One major issue panelists returned to again and again was the difficulty of long-term strategic planning when funding is inconsistent and future funding levels are unknown due to congressional continuing resolutions and the unpredictable federal budget process. Lack of predictable funding for federal programs means agencies that conduct research are constrained and unable to manage long-term scientific research and plan for the future.

The panelists agreed with Fanning’s sentiments that government funded research was crucial to supporting scientific discoveries long before they become commercially viable. As Keller outlined, the process from basic research to technology can be 20 to 25 years long and the longevity of funding required means that government support is absolutely critical. Zuber concurred, stating that science does not work on quarterly earnings timeframe so it is essential the federal government step in.

The process from basic research to technology can be 20 to 25 years long and the longevity of funding required means that government support is absolutely critical. 

Berry offered an energy industry perspective that research performed by federal agencies is crucial and stated that Georgia Power’s sweet spot lies in applied research, relying heavily on the government passing them the research baton. Similar to Berry, Telson stated that General Atomics depends heavily on the advancements made by government funded research that is crucial for industry growth.

America competitiveness was discussed throughout the panel, particularly the role of science and technological advances in American global leadership. Panelists seemed to agree America was still leading the world in scientific research but that continued leadership was not a guarantee and would require renewed federal dedication and investment.

The global market for investments in scientific research is expanding, and while the U.S. benefits from global advancements and discoveries, our share of the pie grows smaller as the rest of the world expands investments. In years to come, China could pass the U.S. as the biggest spender on R&D worldwide. As panelists explained, it seems other countries have read America’s playbook so to speak and realize investment in scientific research and technology leads to prosperity.

In conclusion, everyone unanimously agreed that more work remains to be done to solidify federal support for scientific research and America’s leadership in R&D and technology advancements.

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