Time Running out for the Super Committee

The effects on science and technology funding here in the States could be devastating. Here is the latest from Science Magazine.

My own take is that the Committee will, in fact, probably fail. But the mandatory cuts wont go into effect until Fiscal Year 2013, after the general election. With a new Congress and potentially a new Administration, the law certainly can be rewritten and probably would be.

The central point here is that science funding falls into the category known as discretionary (I know, Beltway-ese). Cuts in discretionary funding wont really do anything substantive to the budget deficit issues. For cuts to be meaningful, as far as the national debt and the deficit, they would need to be in the category called mandatory. Medicare and Medicaid are in this category–and health care is the elephant in the room.

Science budget battles

The relevant interactive chart is here. My take home is that the NIH budget is relatively preserved even under the House plans for a continuing resolution (CR). NSF also seems to emerge from the President’s blueprint relatively OK.

That said, I am much more pessimistic about the longer term picture. Science R&D is the part of the budget termed discretionary by Congress–and until there’s a serious plan (that includes so-called mandatory spending–i.e. like Medicaid and Medicare) then discretionary spending is going to have to take the big hits in order to produce any significant results in the deficit.

Simulus the new baseline for science?

Jeffrey Mervis from ScienceInsider.com:

Several witnesses spoke in favor of using the numbers in the recently passed stimulus package—which add 50% to NSF’s regular budget and 40% to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, for example—as a starting point. Although Mollohan was poker-faced during the hearings, he tipped his hand in a brief interview with ScienceInsider.

Reading the tea leaves

There’s an awful lot going on at the same time this week as far as science funding is concerned. Besides the Recovery Act, there’s the Omnibus Bill for the FY09 budget and then the blueprint for the FY10 budget–it’s all hitting at the same time and so this is not the time for drawing conclusions.

But it’s certainly the time to be preparing our faculty to move rapidly in terms of new opportunities for sponsored federal funding. Accordingly, just as we are retrenching in response to the economic crisis, we’re simultaneously brainstorming about the new science that might be possible with proper federal investment.
To my mind, science investment, is a major driver of the economy. In the current unprecedented conditions (at least in my lifetime), it’s the commonsense way to drive forward towards new technologies that will open up new opportunities, while at the same time educating our citizens to compete in an increasingly dynamic world. I hope the Obama Administration agrees.