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AAAS CEO Offers Analysis of President’s R&D Budget Priorities

Sudip Parikh speaking at National Press Club
Increases in federal R&D investment are supported by a bipartisan group of legislators, said Parikh. | National Press Club

President Joe Biden's proposals for $250 billion in R&D spending under the American Jobs Plan could be "transformative" for American science and technology — if they make it through the U.S. Congress, said American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Sudip Parikh at an April 5 talk hosted by the National Press Club.

Parikh spoke as part of the National Press Club's Virtual Headliners series, in advance of the president's budget request expected later this month.

Among other significant investments, the plan would "roughly double the current annual level of federal spending" on research infrastructure, ensuring that the R&D economy has an impact in rural areas, not just the East and West Coasts, he said.

AAAS's R&D Budget and Policy Program estimates that the Biden plan would annually increase the budget for the National Science Foundation by more than 25% over the next five years, Parikh noted.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions would see a ten times increase in annual funding support from the plan as well.

"Investments like these are going to be vital to securing American competitiveness in an increasingly global competition," said Parikh.

To compete with the pool of talent available in countries with large populations such as China and India, he added, "we're going to need the brain power of the descendants of Native Americans, the Pilgrims, the founding mothers and fathers, enslaved people, Ellis Island arrivals and immigrants from everywhere."

The U.S. is in a high-stakes race with the rest of the globe to discover and translate scientific advances that will provide good jobs, "but we're also in a race against time to make the discoveries, invent the technologies and develop the practices to mitigate upcoming crises," Parikh said.

The swift success of mRNA coronavirus vaccines is just one example of how federal science and technology funding can provide for the country in a crisis, but there is a 30-year story behind this "overnight success," he cautioned.

Federal grants fueling the basic research that laid the groundwork for the vaccines came from a time when the National Institutes of Health budget was doubled, he said. "At that time, one in every three approved proposals were funded, and that enabled riskier projects to receive funding. Today, less than one in five approved proposals receive funding."

Parikh noted that a substantial increase in federal R&D investment is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators as well as American industry.

Putting the country back on a path to robust R&D funding would require a 15% increase in annual support for science and technology, which translates to about $24 billion extra in discretionary spending in the FY 2022 budget, said Parikh.

The numbers show that the president's budget request under the American Jobs Plan would be a good start — but only a start — of a multi-year endeavor that "we need to set us on a steady and sustainable long-term path," he said.

In a statement released April 5, Parikh said AAAS looks forward to working with the Biden administration and Congress to advance the conversation on federal R&D investment.