The University Record, May 8, 1995

Federal research funding debate at critical stage; Neal asks faculty to take role in informing Congress

In the next few weeks, Congress will be considering actions that could dramatically change the role of the federal government in the support of university-based research, scholarship and creative activity, and it is vital that University faculty understand the issues and provide appropriate input into the decisions.

That is the message Homer A. Neal, vice president for research, wishes to convey to University faculty. Neal also notes that the Office of the Vice President for Research is engaged in a multi-faceted effort to collect information and opinions from faculty and to provide what input it can to policy-makers in Washington during this critical period of discussions.

During May and June, in the context of deliberations over the FY96 federal budget and appropriations for specific agencies, Congress will likely consider a number of far-reaching changes aimed at a massive restructuring of the federal government, with tremendous potential impact on university-based research for years to come. Proposed changes include:

• The creation of a new, cabinet-level Department of Science, drawing together essentially all federal agencies (or agency divisions) involved in science and engineering research, excluding the National Institutes of Health (which would remain under the aegis of Health and Human Services).

• The elimination or massive reorganization of cabinet-level departments such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Transportation.

• The elimination or massive reduction of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

• Significant reduction in federal support in areas of science research technological development, including possible elimination of the Advanced Technology Program, Technology Reinvestment Program and other "applied" research programs.

More generally, Neal says, there is a renewed effort in Congress to contain federal spending, in line with the goal of balancing the federal budget by 2002. The budget reductions proposed for the next seven years total between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion. Since much of that total will need to be taken from the discretionary parts of the budget, research in general and universities in particular could be profoundly affected.

These policy discussions in Washington follow hard upon several years of growing uncertainty in the government-university research partnership--uncertainty brought about by macroscopic changes in the environment for research, including the end of the Cold War, increased international economic competition, increased dissatisfaction among the public with higher education, and greater fiscal constraints at the local, state and national levels.

"The United States has the world's most remarkable and productive system of research universities, and no one wants to see that system dismantled," Neal says. "Many of the changes being proposed have, in the eyes of their proposers, the goals of strengthening the research partnership and of managing that partnership more efficiently. However, there is great danger that if the changes are hasty and ill-informed they could devastate the nation's research effort. It must be our goal to ensure that as the discussions of change are carried forward, they are adequately informed by facts, ideas and opinions from those who are most deeply involved in research, scholarship and creative activity."

Toward that end, he urges all faculty to become engaged in understanding and evaluating the situation. He encourages faculty:

• To work through their professional societies to learn more about and provide input concerning the impact of proposed policy changes on research in their disciplines.

• To stay in contact with their program directors in federal funding agencies, in order to keep abreast of proposed and impending changes.

• To provide OVPR with information and advice about any of the issues mentioned above--or about other federal research issues that are reaching a level of impact and import. What are their views, for instance, on the creation of a Department of Science?

In particular, faculty are encouraged to communicate with their departmental liaisons to the Research Council about concerns that they may have. The Research Council, composed of one faculty member from each department on campus, was created earlier this year to help Neal disseminate information to the faculty and receive input on matters of importance for research, scholarship and creative activity at the University.

Finally, of course, faculty are always encouraged, as citizens, to make their views known to their Congressional representatives.

Neal notes that several Michigan members of Congress will have key roles in the discussions in Washington, including: Sen. Spencer Abraham, a member of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee; Rep. Lynn Rivers, Ann Arbor's representative and a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Science Committee; Rep. Vernon Ehlers, vice chair of the House Science Committee; Rep. Dick Chrysler, a member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee (which will ultimately be responsible for developing Department of Science legislation); Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee; and Rep. Joseph Knollenberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Abraham and Chrysler are both deeply involved in the effort to reorganize the various federal agencies.

Faculty who have questions about these issues and related Office of the Vice President for Research initiatives, or who wish to provide input, may do so by contacting OVPR (fax 3-0085; e-mail jhoats@umich.edu).