The University Record, February 6, 1996

Lane: Overall cuts in spending over next seven years target major portions of federal R&D for dismantlement

Editor's Note: Following are highlights of remarks by Neal Lane, director of the National Science Foundation on the serious challenges facing funding of university research that the Record feels members of the University community will find interesting. His remarks were made at the Jan. 15 American Astronomical Society Meeting.


Although I would prefer to talk with you today in a lighthearted and confident manner, I have come, in fact, with some serious concerns about science, our national judgment and America's future. The government shutdown was senseless, wasteful and, many would say, irresponsible governance.

The entire sordid episode has, I believe, irreversibly changed the image of public service, and I'm very worried about the implications for NSF as well as other agencies. But the shutdown reflects a much larger set of conflicts and challenges. We are not operating in a healthy environment for science---research or education. The overall cuts in spending over the next seven years (1996-2002) are designed to help balance the budget. My concern is that these plans target major portions of the federal R&D enterprise for dismantlement, creating "thin ice" on which we attempt to skate toward continued economic success. In essence, this nation is getting ready to run an experiment it has never done before---to see if we can reduce the federal investment in R&D by one-third and still be a world leader in the 21st century. Nobody knows the outcome, but it seems pretty high-risk.

We are now challenged to more clearly articulate the benefits of federally funded research and education to a nation that is largely uninformed about science and increasingly skeptical of federal funding of all sorts. Now it is important that scientists move beyond their intuitive understanding of the importance of their work and begin to fold in anecdotal evidence from the past with the results of careful assessments---both existing and still to be done---of the tangible societal benefits of scientific research and education.

One thing that has been striking during this year of budget battles and, most recently, the shutdown, is the perceived stony silence of the science and technology community---the universities, where most of the fundamental research is done and, with a few exceptions, business and industry, which depend on the knowledge and technologies research provides. And I can assure you that this perceived lack of concern has not gone unnoticed in Washington...

Clearly, this is a time of great challenge for science and technology in America. But I believe we can seize this time as one of opportunity to work together in ways we have never done before, to raise our voices together to send out a clear and coherent message. This is not the time to plead for biology vs. chemistry or astronomy vs. engineering, or even basic vs. applied research or technology. It's a time to speak out about the importance of the federal investment in science and technology, in research and education, in universities, in national laboratories and in other institutions---and in the partnerships that have been formed with industry and other sectors that use the knowledge and technologies for the public good.


Highlights prepared by Lee
Katterman, Division of Research
Development and Administration