End of Year Message 2010: Funding Challenges

President Curtis Callan, December 2010

Dear APS Member:

In the waning days of the 111th Congress, the Senate unexpectedly took up the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which had been languishing for many months after it had passed the House late last May.  After readjusting the authorization levels downward for the agencies covered – DOE, NIST and NSF – to accommodate Republican objections, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent.  The House quickly approved the Senate version by a vote of 228 to 130.

Without the advocacy efforts of APS members, and of other scientists, mathematicians and engineers throughout the country, the COMPETES Act would never have been enacted into law.  On behalf of the APS leadership, I want to thank the thousands of you who signed letters, contacted your Members of Congress by phone and e-mail, or visited their offices.  You played a crucial role in this success.

The COMPETES Act reaffirms the nation’s commitment to policies that will sustain American leadership in scientific research and strengthen American programs in science and math education.  The language of the bill is an important reaffirmation of the central role of science in 21st century America, but it is only an authorization measure.  It does NOT provide the actual funding for science.  That task falls to the appropriations committees that will begin their work anew in the 112th Congress.

With the United States debt reaching unsustainable levels, the climate in 2011 for all civilian discretionary spending will be very grim.  Although virtually all economists, liberal and conservative alike, agree that economic growth is largely driven by advances in science and technology, it will be very difficult to convince lawmakers that science should receive special treatment in the impending budget cuts.  It will require extraordinary efforts on the part of the entire S&T community to deliver the message that large reductions in federal support for science would have a devastating impact on the innovation enterprise of this nation and greatly diminish its ability to create the jobs and new technologies on which our future prosperity depends.

Although we will not know in any detail what the President and Congress will propose for science funding until February at the earliest, preliminary signs are not encouraging.  Projected cuts range from a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 30 percent.  I need not tell you how destructive the latter would be. The APS Washington Office will be monitoring the situation closely and will be implementing strategies to ensure that members of Congress, particularly the newly elected members, are aware of the importance of a vibrant American S&T enterprise and the need for strong federal support. However, your help throughout the coming months will be essential for keeping our nation on track as a leader in science and innovation.  Your involvement will also be essential in averting a crisis in federal support for research and education.

It has been an honor to serve the members of the APS as their president during the past year. In what will almost certainly be my last official communication in that role, I ask for your strong commitment to work with the APS leadership and the Washington Office to help sustain robust federal funding for science research and education in the coming year. Incoming APS president Barry Barish will have numerous occasions to ask for your help, and I urge you to be unusually responsive to his requests: the issues at stake are of more than usual gravity.

In closing, I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.

Curt Callan