Monday, May 9, 2011

S&T Challenges in FY 2012: A View from the Helm

Last week, I attended the annual Science and Technology Policy forum convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The conference was kicked off by John P. Holdren, the Science Advisor to the President and the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Dr. Holdren provided a glowing assessment of the President’s commitment to science, exclaiming that President Obama ‘gets it’ when it comes to the importance of science and technology. But with the recent debates over fiscal policy, the honeymoon is clearly over. We’ve already seen budget cuts to many of the research agencies and more may be on the horizon.

Dr. Holdren laid out what he believes to be some of the challenges facing federal R&D over the coming months. Basic research at the Department of Defense will likely come under increased scrutiny. The Department of Energy, which saw significant cuts during the recent budget deal, can expect attempts to downsize or eliminate programs like carbon capture and fusion.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences will likely be targeted. This particular Directorate was already singled out in Eric Cantor’s YouCut initiative. Historically, social sciences have always been a controversial component of the NSF portfolio and the current fiscal debate provides a new impetus for criticism.

Regulatory practices by the Food and Drug Administration will probably be challenged on the grounds that overly burdensome regulation slows job creation and dissuades companies from commercializing new products. Lastly, Dr. Holdren pointed out that programs supporting international collaboration will be squeezed, likely on the grounds that we shouldn’t be sending domestic dollars overseas.

Clearly, science is facing an uphill battle in an increasingly tumultuous political environment. If you care about the important research that our government supports, now is the time to speak out.

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