Wednesday, January 10, 2007

show me the money

2006 began with the promise of lots of new funding for basic research and science education, but ended with discouragement and disillusionment for many people in the science community.

With all of the talk about keeping America competitive in the global market there is relatively little to show for it as the new congress takes over. In fact, if the 110th congress passes a continuing resolution, as anticipated, for all areas of government except for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, science research will not only be unable to support many of the newly proposed programs, but many already existing projects will be in serious trouble.

I realize that making congressional decisions is much more complicated than I imagine it to be, but I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that despite President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, the National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, and the Council on Competitiveness’ Innovate America report, our representatives can’t come to some type of agreement on the budgets for science agencies.

Seriously, with the ever deepening problem of global warming and the need for alternative energy sources - can’t they sit down and brute force pass something? Anything would be better than nothing at this point.

And it’s not like they’re completely lost on what to do. Last September a bipartisan bill was introduced to the Senate that addressed many of the recommendations of the RAGS report and was supported by over 35 senators - nearly equal numbers of democrats and republicans. “The National Academy of Sciences told us what we need to do,” said Senator Pete Domenici last fall, “and it is up to us on Capitol Hill to do it.” Or, I guess, to not do it.

The new congress makes the case for passing a continuing resolution by explaining that they need to “clear the decks quickly” so they can get to work on war funding and a new budget. They claim to recognize the negative consequences but insist that this is the best way forward. Maybe it is, but I hope they recognize the consequences of such a continuing resolution are greater than just delaying some projects - in many ways it is a deeply discouraging end to a year characterized by exciting hopes and possibilities. A deeply discouraging year for those people whose dreams keep America competitive.

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