The U.S. Congress should keep the promises it made in the America Competes Act of 2007, and restore funding to three federal agencies that conduct basic research, a group of tech CEOs said.
The Technology CEO Council sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday, urging them to bump up funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The three agencies' fiscal year 2008 budgets were a combined $918 million short of targets promised in the America Competes Act, legislation that focuses on improving U.S. science and technology programs.
Research funding was short by 91 percent in the DOE's Office of Science, 77 percent at NSF, and 70 percent at NIST in their 2008 budgets, compared to promised levels, according to the American Physical Society, an advocacy group for physicists. The America Competes Act, signed into law last August, promised to double funding at the three agencies over 10 years.
The 2008 budget "made these actions little more than empty promises," said the Technology CEO Council letter, signed by the CEOs of IBM, Dell, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and six other companies. "With key budgets that grew at less than the rate of inflation, our science agencies have no choice but to get back or tread water rather than lead."
The funding shortfalls at the DOE's Office of Science will cause universities and research labs to lay off about 550 scientists, engineers, technologists, or support staff, the letter said. "Hundreds of new jobs won't be realized in fields critical to our competitiveness," the letter added.
The funding shortages also will keep the science agencies from expanding scholarship and research grant programs for promising science students, and will hamper the agencies' ability to train math and science teachers for grade and high schools, the letter said.
Funding for federal research is important for U.S. competitiveness in a global economy, added Bruce Mehlman, executive director of the Technology CEO Council. "American competitiveness starts with our innovative capacity, our infrastructure's strength, and our ability to grow and retain talent," he said Tuesday. "Federally funded research at labs and universities is the ultimate seed corn that leads to the innovations, that develops the infrastructure, and that creates the talent that's powered our economy for the last 60 years."
It shouldn't be difficult for Congress to find the money to fund the programs, Mehlman added. "In the world of $3 trillion budgets, it's borderline scandalous" that Congress couldn't approve the funding promised in the America Competes Act, he said. "So many people have given great, soaring speeches that they're for competitiveness and they're for innovation," he said. "But you're not for it if you don't fund it."
Several tech trade groups will lobby for increased research funding in the 2009 budget, Mehlman said.