Senate Turns Attention to #InnovationDeficit

April 30, 2014

by Paula Skedsvold  

With the squeeze on the federal budget and some calls to cut spending even further, it is a welcome reprieve for the Senate to highlight the need to address the nation’s innovation deficit

In early 2013, approximately 200 university presidents and chancellors sent a letter to the President and Congress urging them to close the innovation deficit, that widening gap between the actual level of federal government funding for research and higher education and what is needed if the United States wants to remain the world’s leader in innovation. For years now, the push to reduce the deficit has led to substantial cuts across federal “discretionary” programs, and the nation’s science agencies have taken a hit. 

On April 29, 2014, the Senate Appropriations Committee, under the leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), turned its focus to the impact of the shrinking federal R&D investments and the growing innovation deficit. The hearing brought together the heads of many of the U.S. science agencies, including:

  • John P. Holdren, Ph.D., Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Francis Collins, M.D. Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health
  • France Cordova, Ph.D., Director, National Science Foundation
  • Ernest Moniz, Ph.D., Secretary, Department of Energy
  • Arati Prabhakar, Ph.D., Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense

Opening the hearing, Chairwoman Mikulski noted that innovation has been a bipartisan issue, and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) stressed the importance of the Committee staying within the spending limits of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. 

Over 100 organizations submitted written statements that will be included in the hearing record. Among them is written testimony submitted by 50 business, higher education, scientific, and patient organizations, including FABBS. The testimony graphs the growing innovation deficit, describes what has created it, and why it is a serious problem for the U.S. This coalition of groups urges action to close the innovation deficit:

“The simple answer is that the federal government must make sustained investments in scientific research that meet or exceed annual inflation in the cost of doing research. To help make this possible, Congress and the President must stop sequestration, reduce long-term budget deficits, and stabilize the long-term national debt, using a sensible approach that allows wise investments in research and education and creates economic and job growth. To do less is to fall behind.”

NIH Director Collins told the Committee that the worst thing it could do is create a “feast or famine” situation, a “rollercoaster” for scientists, by “revving up the engine and then taking away the fuel.”

Both Senate and House appropriators hope to move their spending bills through the paces early this year, and both chambers must remain within the caps set by the budget deal. The House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee will mark up their spending bill tomorrow. NSF is slated for a 3.31 % increase, while just under 3% is proposed for the Research account.

View infographic on innovation deficit » 

Watch the Senate webcast » 

Read Testimony on Innovation Deficit »