U.S. Economic Competitiveness at Risk With Science Cuts: NSF Director

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By Michaela Ross

America’s economic competitiveness is being jeopardized as other countries accelerate their investment in science and engineering while the U.S. faces steep budget cuts, the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said June 7 at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

“I think the existential threat is even larger than a lot of people realize because we have competition from other countries that is incredibly serious,” France Cordova said at a Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee hearing. “Frankly I’m concerned about that. I’m concerned about the accelerating pace of investment in other countries.”

President Donald Trump called for an 11 percent cut to the science foundation’s funding allocation in his May 23 budget request. The NSF is tasked with improving national security and fostering economic growth by funding science research. It supported tech giants like Symantec Corp. and Qualcomm Inc. when the companies were developing their core technologies through its startup and small business funding program that aims to transform research into commercial enterprises.

The budget cut marks the first time a president proposed funding below the foundation’s current levels, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) said at the hearing. The subcommittee’s ranking member said the request to reduce science education and research threatened the ability of the U.S. to remain a world leader in innovation.

“I would note that countries like China are not cutting back on their involvement and investment in the sciences,” Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) said. “This level of funding endangers the core missions of NSF.”

Tech Groups Oppose Budget Cuts

Tech advocacy groups, such as the nonprofit Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), have said the budget cut would undermine the U.S.’s long-term innovation and competitiveness in strategically important industries. The Semiconductor Industry Association called the foundation a critical research agency that has spurred “tremendous” growth in the U.S. economy.

The budget would include cuts to research in cybersecurity, resilient infrastructure and the same NSF small business programming that supported Symantec and Qualcomm. It would also include decreases to science education funding across states and cut the number of new research fellowships offered to U.S. graduate students in half, Kei Koizumi, former assistant director for federal research and development in the Obama administration told Bloomberg BNA. Koizumi now works with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The major thing that worries me is this disinvestment of America’s next generation of scientists and engineers,” Koizumi said. “We really are in danger of losing America’s scientific and innovation edge because we wouldn’t have the people that will help us do it.”

Koizumi said after the hearing he was more assured that members of Congress, who will have the final say on the foundation’s budget allocation, appear poised to make sure the 11 percent cut proposed is lessened. Throughout the event, lawmakers on both sides expressed broad support for the mission of the foundation.

Still, the best case scenario may be no change for fiscal year 2018, he said. While subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-Texas) said the subcommittee was “arm in arm” when it came to support for fundamental research, he warned that lawmakers need to be mindful of Trump’s other budget priorities.

“Donald Trump was elected because the country wanted to see these problems dealt with,” Culberson said. “They wanted to see the debt resolved, the deficit resolved, spending brought under control, the military restored—they wanted problems solved.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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