Category: Science Budgets

When The Words “Just” And “Before” Foreshadow Bad Things For Medical Research

By The Intersection | June 30, 2011 8:23 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy wonk, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

On Wednesday, President Obama gave a fiery press conference performance during which he ridiculed Republicans for their handling of the deficit reductions talks. As I listened to the President, I was reminded of previous legislative negotiations, such as the Health Care debate, where he similarly made it known that Congress was failing to meet their obligations to the American people. On each of those previous occasions, the President came out victorious, by achieving the legislation for which he was advocating.

The language used by the President this week suggests that he’s willing to fight to prevent a default on America’s debt. However, there were some comments that left me wondering if the U.S. scientific research community should brace for deeper cuts in the process.

At one point in the conference, President Obama explained that reaching the spending cut goals would be difficult and they would need to be distributed throughout the government. He said,

We can’t get to the $4 trillion in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research and education funding and food inspectors and the weather service. And we can’t just do it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. So we’re going to need to look at the whole budget…

The word “just” implies to me that he has conceded that cuts must be made to the portion of the budget that includes medical research.

OK. So, we’ve already made those cuts, right? We shouldn’t expect additional cuts, should we? Later in the conference, the President says,

before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children’s education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys.

To me, this suggests that additional cuts in the research and innovation sectors are still on the table. I have to ask, can we afford more cuts? The FY 2011 Budget included more than $300 million in cuts from the National Institutes of Health budget. Francis Collins, Director of the Institute, has said that these cuts will reduce grant funding rates to an all time low.

Here’s my final question.  At what point do we admit that we have “sacrifice[d] our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs?”

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter or read occasional posts at his personal blog, “American SciCo.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Economy, Science Budgets

My Failed Mission to Hold Holdren Accountable

By The Intersection | May 5, 2011 11:17 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Last night, the George Washington University and the University of Ottawa presented the D. Allan Bromley Memorial Lecture with featured speaker Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

I attended the event with the intention of getting to the root of a problem that has been irking me for months.  I wanted to ask Dr. Holdren why the scientific integrity guidelines that he requested from all agencies have not been delivered.  This has been a drawn out process mired in inaction and delays since President Obama made his request for the guidelines more than 2 years ago.

Initially, the President assigned to Dr. Holdren “the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes.”  Dr. Holdren was to confer with “the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President, and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.”  This task was to be performed within 120 days of the issuance of the President’s memorandum.  That would have been approximately July 9, 2009.  Instead, it took more than 18 months before Dr. Holdren produced his own memorandum on December 17, 2010 directing the heads of the executive departments and agencies to implement the Administration’s policies on scientific integrity.  In his memo, Dr. Holdren asked that “all agencies report to [him] within 120 days the actions they have taken to develop and implement policies” in these areas.

On April 21, 2011, OSTP reported that all 30 executive branch departments, agencies and offices had responded to Dr. Holdren’s request, six of which had submitted draft or completed policies.  This announcement, however, described the responses as “progress reports,” which for me changes the meaning of Dr. Holdren’s December memo.  Whereas last year Dr. Holdren asked for a report of “the actions that have been taken to develop and implement policies,” one might assume this means more than a progress report.  Personally, I would like to see a little more action on this issue.

Why am I so concerned about the establishment of these guidelines? Read More

New Point of Inquiry with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Communicating Science

By Chris Mooney | March 1, 2011 8:18 am

The episode is now up and you can listen to it here. Here’s the write up:

Our guest this week needs little introduction—he may be our most famous public communicator of science.

He’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson, renowned American astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and the host of PBS’s NOVA ScienceNow, which just completed a new six part season.

Tyson is also the author of 9 books, most recently Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, which was a New York Times bestseller, and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.

In this double length episode, Tyson discusses a wide range of topics: the just finished 2011 season of ScienceNow; how to restore a science “Zeitgeist” in our culture; Bill O’Reilly’s recent foot-in-mouth comments about how the world works; this million-view YouTube clip of Tyson and Richard Dawkins; and much more.

Again, you can listen to the show here. I’m going to be blogging about it throughout the week.

Why Now Is the Time to Invest in Science

By Chris Mooney | February 18, 2011 1:52 pm

From the text of John Holdren’s recent congressional testimony on the science budget (also available here):

All told, this Budget proposes $66.8 billion for civilian research and development, an increase of $4.1 billion or 6.5 percent over the 2010 funding level in this category. But the Administration is committed to reducing the deficit even as we prime the pump of discovery and innovation. Accordingly, our proposed investments in R&D, STEM education, and infrastructure fit within an overall non-security discretionary budget that would be frozen at 2010 levels for the second year in a row. The Budget reflects strategic decisions to focus resources on those areas where the payoff for the American people is likely to be highest.

This is similar to what I argued with Meryl Comer in the Los Angeles Times in December–tough economic times are the times to invest in science, not cut it.

Holdren concludes:

Let me reiterate, in closing, the guiding principle underlying this Budget: America’s strength, prosperity, and global leadership depend directly on the investments we’re willing to make in R&D, in STEM education, and in infrastructure.

Investments in these domains are the ultimate act of hope, the source of the most important legacy we can leave. Only by sustaining them can we assure future generations of Americans a society and place in the world worthy of the history of this great Nation, which has been building its prosperity and global leadership on a foundation of science, technology, and innovation since the days of Jefferson and Franklin.

In hard times, you don’t give up on vision. You knuckle down, sure, but you also look ahead. (Meanwhile, Paul Krugman reminds us today that the budget debate is deeply mis-aligned because we’re so focused on cutting the smallest part of the budget, when the real issues are healthcare costs and tax revenue.)


Even Bigger Proposed GOP Science/Environment Cuts

By Chris Mooney | February 12, 2011 9:40 am

The Appropriations committee came out yesterday with a proposal of $ 100 billion in cuts from the non-defense discretionary budget–which is itself just a fraction of total spending. There are deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and to some of the key scientific priorities of the federal stimulus. Take the Energy Department:

The Committee also sought to reduce excess and unnecessary spending by cutting Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and Science accounts – both of which received huge funding levels in the stimulus bill. To date, EERE has more than $10 billion and Science has more than $800 million in unspent stimulus funding.

I guess the logic here is that Republicans didn’t like the stimulus, and so the unspent parts of it should be pulled back. I don’t see though how that helps the economy or our competitiveness.

In fact, there’s more that can be said about this. These renewable energy cuts are occurring while federal subsidies to fossil fuel producers–billions of dollars per year–are being preserved. In effect, then, the plan is to privilege one energy source over another.

Meanwhile, EPA gets savaged, and climate change programs defunded:

Specifically, the CR cuts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $3 billion, which is 29% below fiscal year 2010. The cuts to the EPA alone represent 69% of the bill’s reduction compared to last year’s level. In addition, the bill cuts climate change funding bill-wide by $107 million, or 29%, from the fiscal year 2010 enacted level.

And so that brief bipartisan-sounding moment following the State of the Union is already officially passed, and we’re headed towards a budget showdown.


GOP Proposes More Science Cuts

By Chris Mooney | February 10, 2011 9:49 am

I thought, after President Obama’s State of the Union address, that at least we could all probably agree that advancing scientific research (and thus, economic growth) was a good thing. But now we see what the House Appropriations Committee has in mind when it comes to cutting $ 35 billion from the budget–and that includes a lot of whacks at scientific research programs that are at the center of the innovation agenda. Reports Portfolio:

Republicans propose cutting $1.1 billion from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. The plan calls for a $1 billion budget cut at the National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s medical research agency. The Centers for Disease Control would see its funding drop by $755 million. Agricultural research would be cut by $246 million.

The spending plan, which will go to the House floor for a vote next week, also calls for eliminating $1 billion in funding for high-speed rail projects, a program that Obama wants to spend $53 billion on over the next six years. Amtrak would face a $224 million budget cut.

Among the other cuts:

* The Department of Energy’s loan-guarantee program, which supports loans for clean-energy projects, would be reduced by $1.4 billion.
* Spending on other energy efficiency and renewable energy programs would be cut by nearly $900 million.
* The Environmental Protection Agency would have $1.6 billion less to spend, making it harder for the agency to proceed with regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Honestly, the last cut is the only one that at least makes some sense from the point of view of a Republican who wants to stimulate the economy. They think GHG regulations will kill growth and jobs. I think they’re wrong–but at least there’s an argument there.

What on earth is the economic argument for cutting any of this other research?


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