Dear Research Advocate:
For every step forward in the appropriations process, there tends to be a stumble backwards. The House has begun floor debate on HR 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. The bill calls for a $237 million increase over FY 14 for the National Science Foundation (NSF), totaling $7.4 billion in budget authority. This increase (approximately 3%) is $150 million higher than the figure included in the President’s budget (a higher level that the President has endorsed) and is emblematic of the priority that should also be assigned to funding for the National Institutes of Health and our nation’s other research agencies.
Unfortunately, not all the news relating to NSF is good. Last night, the House Science Committee passed, on a party-line vote, legislation that authorizes a lower funding level for NSF than House appropriators allocate to it which can throw the funding process into disarray. The measure introduces political and ideological considerations into the allocation of science resources, a dangerous precedent that would inevitably stifle the progress that arises from free-flowing scientific exploration; and cuts another $50 million from social and behavioral sciences and economics (SBE) research. This is a perfect example of why scientists must advocate; they are uniquely able to explain the value of the research that is at risk and the consequences of tamping out scientific freedom.
As debates continue, an op-ed in this week’s Spokane Review by Eric Beir, a junior at Washington State University, called attention to two important points related to the appropriations process. The decisions Congress makes now will either perpetuate, exacerbate or reverse our nation’s flagging global science leadership. As other countries increase their R&D investments, young scientists will be forced to follow the money in order to fund their research. That’s one reason why FY 15 appropriations are so important. Congress has an opportunity to retake ground it has been ceding to other nations, and the sooner we stop the cycle of decline, the better.
A long-term commitment to science is equally important, and Australia is doing just that, in many respects similar to the Durbin/Eshoo American Cures Act. Australian officials have established a trust fund to support medical research that is set to grow to an astonishing $20 billion (in Australian currency, or about $18.5 billion USD) by the year 2020. That’s unprecedented for a fund of this type, and demonstrates yet again that other countries are strongly committed to medical progress. Are we?
It should be an easy question to answer. Just think about children who are living with unrelenting, unimaginable pain yet are holding out hope for new therapies to ease their suffering. Research!America’s newest fact sheet tells the story of John, a patient with a skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa. We hope you will share this fact sheet with your representatives or congressional candidates, or take it with you on Hill or in-district visits. No one who reads John’s story can doubt the significance of medical progress. And no policymaker should suffer the illusion that medical progress is possible without federal investment. You can’t get there from here.
This week’s letter was authored by Suzanne Ffolkes, Vice President of Communications at Research!America.