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Rhetoric on Support for Science Doesn’t Match Reality of Appropriations


The appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) signed into law by President Bush on December 26, 2007, included what some observers are calling meager funding for advances in scientific research rather than the more substantial increases that had been expected. “[W]hat began as a year of soaring rhetoric in support of science seems likely to end with agency officials and research advocates shaking their heads and wondering what went wrong,” said the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The White House had promoted the “America Creating Opportunities To Meaningfully Promote Excellence In Technology, Education, And Science Act (America COMPETES)” Act, signed into law in August 2007, as, among other things, a comprehensive strategy to “attract[ ] the world’s best and brightest workers.” The new appropriations package, however, “makes moot the double-digit hikes authorized for research, education and training, and investment in innovation spelled out” in America COMPETES, said AAAS.

There was some advance warning that funding might not rise to meet expectations raised by the earlier legislation and accompanying rhetoric. In a White House statement issued in August in conjunction with President Bush’s signing of America COMPETES, Mr. Bush said he was “concerned that the legislation include[d] excessive authorizations and new duplicative programs.” The statement noted that the bill created over 30 new programs that were “mostly duplicative or counterproductive,” including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development “more appropriately left to the private sector,” and that the bill provided “excessive authorization for existing programs.” Accordingly, the August statement noted that the President would “request funding in his 2009 budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the [President’s “American Competitiveness Initiative” (ACI)], but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in the bill.”

“Riding the Rising Tide: A 21st Century Strategy for U.S. Competitiveness and Prosperity,” a report by the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA) released in December 2007 shortly before the appropriations legislation was signed into law, provides a 14-point action program. ASTRA recommends, among other things, that the U.S. “strengthen efforts to attract top foreign students and Ph.D.-level professionals in science, engineering and technology. This includes developing a national strategic plan for recruiting top international students, scientists, engineers and technologists, and evaluating the U.S. immigration system to remove barriers to these talented individuals migrating to the U.S.” This approach, ASTRA said, “should include incentives to attract leading foreign-born scientists, engineers, and technologists, including public funding for their research if they migrate to and carry out that research in the United States.”

The ASTRA report is available in PDF. An ASTRA statement about the appropriations legislation is available at their site. AAAS’s statement is available at this link. The August 2007 White House statement is available at here.

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