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GEN News Highlights : Feb 12, 2009

Blog: A True Stimulus Package for Science and Technology

The next-generation of scientists have been shafted with education funding not faring well.

By Michael Koeris

The stimulus bill has finally passed to the tune of $789 billion. An astronomical sum certainly, which maybe even includes some much needed help on determining how high a stack of trillion $1 bills would reach into outer space or around the globe (the answer will be revealed after the next election).

More to the point, however, and perhaps of interest to the readers of this blog, the House of Representatives, approved its own version of the stimulus bill two weeks ago, and the Senate did too after a lot of back and forth. Finally, the two got put together in a compromise bill for President Obama’s approval, and we'll have a look at what did make the cut and what didn't.

Overall, scientists expressed relief that the Senate did not approve a proposal that would have removed all stimulus financing for the NSF and the Office of Science in the Energy Department. Both agencies are considered crucial to basic research, which leads to technological breakthroughs.

According to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Senate version would spend $17.8 billion on science and technology research and development, of which $10.4 billion would go to biomedical research at the NIH. The House bill, which passed two weeks ago, allocated $13.2 billion for research, of which $3.9 billion would go to the NIH.

Now let's look at what did get cut and remember, this represents a pairing down of both sides of the bill, House and Senate. Specifically, let’s evaluate science funding that did get the ax in the compromise compared to the original House and Senate bills: $70 million for research into technologies with high-growth potential (who wants high growth potential anyways!); construction or renovation of science facilities worth $57 million (shameless belated lobbying: “my lab is old!”); NASA science research is down $100 million, but NASA aeronautics is up $100 million (breakeven for NASA— yay); and funding for the construction of high-monetary—sorry—high-energy physics labs got slashed by $1.54 billion, sad but not surprising in the days after the Large Hadron Collider got shut down just after it was built.

Now here is the kicker, the NSF is down $1.5 billion from the Senate version to the final version, not to mention that NSF educational activities are down another $50 million as well, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal.

Some other items cut were $2.325 billion for broadband, $1 billion in headstart, $3.63 billion in military hospital renovations (not necessary—it's not like we are in a war), $6 billion in health prevention, $3.5 billion for higher education construction, $16 billion for school construction, and some $40 billion for state fiscal stabilization, which includes $7.5 billion of state incentive grants.

Not all is lost, though, and I particularly am heartened by the increase (yes, you read that right) in biomedical funding of the NIH—$2.7 billion for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and so forth. Then on top of that, there is an additional $6.5 billion for research in general at the NIH.

All in all I think science funding got off easy (NSF notwithstanding), but sadly I think education—both K12 and higher ed—did not, which is at odds with Obama's vision of keeping America competitive through grooming the next generation of great inventors, scientists, doctors, and businessmen.

 

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