Washington, D.C. — Unless Congress acts to reverse sequestration cuts scheduled to continue through 2021, significant underfunding of research agencies could devastate federal science research and cause major economic implications, write Harry Stein and Jennifer Ericksonin a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress. Perpetual underfunding of the National Science Foundation, or NSF; the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST; and the Department of Energy Office of Science, or DOE Science, could cost the United States nearly 14,000 NSF research grants, 75 new NIST research institutes at American universities, and 24,000 person-years of DOE Science researchers. Stein is the Associate Director for Fiscal Policy at CAP, and Erickson is CAP’s Director of Competitiveness and Economic Growth. Alex Rowell also contributed to the brief.
Funding for federal science research has been squeezed for years, the authors find, and the current situation will worsen unless Congress removes the budget caps preventing Congress from adequately supporting such work. Congress is currently in the process of reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act, a law originally passed in 2007 that authorizes funding levels for NSF, NIST, and DOE Science, all of which carry out research that supports much of the United States’ technological advancement. While the 2010 reauthorization of the law included increased funding authorizations for these agencies, enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011 restricted Congress’ ability to appropriate adequate funds to meet the new funding levels set under the America COMPETES reauthorization in 2010, which led to a nearly $6 billion shortfall in federal dollars for science research—which Stein and Erickson call “Science Gap 1.0.” Sequestration brought the budget caps even lower, further devastating science research.
CAP’s analysis looks at the growth rates envisioned by the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2014, legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. While the proposal authorizes funding increases at all three agencies, sequestration spending caps instituted by the Budget Control Act will likely lead to a funding shortfall of more than $13 billion between 2015 and 2021. “Science Gap 2.0” will result from this research deficit, holding back scientific advancements be critical to the U.S. economy as well as to the science-based military advantage that underpins our national security. The authors conclude that Congress should reauthorize the America COMPETES Act to place these three agencies back on a path toward doubling funding, as well as repeal sequestration spending restrictions so that they can fulfill this commitment with adequate appropriations.
“For the past several years, Congress has severely underfunded federal investment in science,” Stein said. “If Congress does not repeal the harsh across-the-board cuts imposed by sequestration, we stand to lose the researchers, laboratories, and federal grants that could produce the next great technological advancement.”
“Federal research and development is critical to American economic competitiveness,” Erickson said. “Given the enormous return on investment from federal science research, underfunding such work would truly be penny wise and pound foolish—which is why Congress should repeal these short-sighted budget cuts.”