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AAAS Letters Urge Policymakers to Save U.S. Science from Fiscal Cliff

AAAS this week sent letters to President Barack Obama and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging them to “work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that avoids the fiscal cliff and moves the country on to solid fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology.”

The association invited Obama and Boehner to listen to the voices of scientists and engineers from academia, laboratories, and businesses nationwide who have posted messages to a public portal on the AAAS MemberCentral Web site, outlining the importance of federal research funding.

The AAAS Speak Up for Science site was launched earlier this month as part of the association’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the threat of a budget sequestration, which would cut the nation’s overall R&D investment by approximately $57 billion between now and 2017. Unless the President and Congress can reach a budget agreement, across-the-board cuts will automatically go into effect on 2 January, devastating virtually every field of research.

“The state of Ohio alone would stand to lose $1.43 billion in federal R&D investments over the next five years,” AAAS CEO and Science Executive Publisher Alan I. Leshner wrote to Boehner. “That is not good for science, but it is also bad for an economy whose growth is driven by science and technology.”

Federal R&D investments are not driving national deficits, Leshner noted. He added that federal nondefense R&D funding has already declined by 5% in the past two years.

In his letter to President Obama, Leshner quoted Spencer Diamond, a University of California San Diego doctoral student who is studying photosynthetic bacteria for use in the production of green fuels and chemicals. Spencer reported that the laboratory where he works relies upon funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and his school’s graduate biology program receives NIH training grants. “A major loss of government research funding would severely impact most individuals at my university, and would significantly set back the basic scientific research we are doing to help develop alternative fuel sources,” Diamond wrote. “This is research on which we can build the foundations of U.S. energy independence.”

Spencer Diamond

Leshner’s letter to Boehner quoted a scientist from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio who is developing flexible, adaptive robots based on biological organisms. “These robots are likely to have applications in medicine, defense, and in industry,” wrote Hillel Chiel. “If we lose our funding, the six graduate students and three undergraduate students in my lab, who receive federal funding, may not be able to do their work. Science, research and engineering are the reason America has been so successful; we must not allow ourselves to fall behind other countries.”

By 19 December, the AAAS Speak Up for Science site had so far generated hundreds (343) text responses from scientists and engineers who are concerned about American innovation, said Ian King, the association’s marketing director.

For example, the site’s “Featured Submissions” page includes input from a department chair who wrote that “federal funding is the lifeblood of the biomedical research enterprise in this country.” Such funding has declined in recent years, he noted, decreasing the productivity of the enterprise and destabilizing biomedical research institutions. “Any further erosion, as for example would result from sequestration, would be devastating, forcing institutions to make draconian cuts to their research staffs and to eliminate the training and hiring of the next generation of research scientists,” he wrote.

A recent analysis completed for the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) concluded that more than 20,000 NASA contractor jobs and at least 2500 jobs with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would disappear in 2013 if policy-makers fail to prevent a budget sequestration. The report—completed by Stephen S. Fuller, the Dwight Schar Faculty Chair and University Professor and Director for Regional Analysis at George Mason University—predicts that sequestration would devastate geographic “clusters” of aerospace industry in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

Analysis by the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program has found that 19 states would lose at least $1 billion each in federal R&D money if sequestration happens. California would be the hardest hit, losing $11.3 billion, while Maryland would lose $5.4 billion overall, followed by Virginia ($4.3 billion), and Texas ($2.8 billion), said Matthew Hourihan, program director.

“AAAS will continue to respectfully call policy-makers’ attention to the risk that sequestration poses to U.S. science and American competitiveness,” said Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Office of Government Relations.


Sign the AAAS petition to protect research funding from the 2013 sequestration budget cuts.

Read the letter from AAAS to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Read the letter from AAAS to House Speaker John Boehner.

View comments from researchers concerned about the impact sequestration budget cuts on U.S. research.