September 30, 2011
The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved legislation that would cut funding for research and science education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the coming fiscal year. NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense...." Since then, NSF has become an innovation agency contributing to the nation's basic research infrastructure and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These contributions are the foundations for economic growth, job creation, and an informed public that are so important for the country's future.
NSF provides approximately 68 percent of the federal funding for non-medical, basic research at academic institutions in the life sciences, including environmental biology. NSF is the only federal agency that funds fundamental research and science education across all scientific disciplines.
The agency received approximately $6.8 billion for fiscal year 2011, a $65 million reduction from the 2010 spending level. As proposed by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, research programs central to fulfilling NSF's mission would be cut an additional $120.9 million in fiscal year 2012. The Senate panel would also cut $32 million from science education and human resources programs. Collectively, just over $160 million in support for research and education programs would be cut.
"These budget cuts threaten the integrity of core research programs and educational opportunities for students from kindergarten through postdoctoral training," warns AIBS president Dr. James P. Collins. "This plan is counter to the bipartisan pledges we have heard in recent years for investments in scientific research and education and is shortsighted relative to the nation's welfare," Collins notes.
Collins has previously served as Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences at NSF.
The House of Representatives has offered a more supportive spending plan that would come close to providing NSF with flat funding for the coming year.
"We all recognize the nation is facing challenging economic times, but the journey back to prosperity is going to be much longer and more daunting without a balanced and sustained investment in scientific research and education," warns Collins.
Scientists and students have begun to express their frustration with widely swinging federal research budgets. More than 2,900 students from across the country have already signed a petition urging lawmakers to sustain investments in scientific research and education.
Collins encourages scientists to visit, call, or send a letter to their Senators to remind them of the importance of investing in science. "It is important that lawmakers understand that investing in scientific research and education is a commitment to the future just as was the case in the post-Sputnik era of the 1960s. As we look forward to a century that will increasingly demand the knowledge and skills of an educated public the future welfare of the country will depend on investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that we make today," states Collins.
According to Collins, scientists concerned about the changing tenor of support for scientific research and education can use the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a message to elected officials.