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SPIE Urges Leaders to Avoid Fiscal Cliff, Support Science

BELLINGHAM, Wash., Dec. 12, 2012 — What do we want? A bipartisan plan to avoid the fiscal cliff that also supports science and education. When do we want it? Now.

SPIE and other science, engineering and education organizations are urging the president and Congress to find a balanced, bipartisan plan to avoid the fiscal cliff — including tax and entitlement reform — that also ensures strong support for science and technology in America.

Since World War II, economic growth in the industrialized world has been driven by innovation and technological progress, the letter to Congressional leaders and President Obama says. In addition to the development of the Global Positioning System, the laser and the Internet, technology has enabled countless medical advances that have helped save the lives of millions of heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients, among others. Almost every national priority — from health and defense, to agriculture and conservation — relies on science and engineering, the letter states.

Federal R&D investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts would be made if sequestration goes into effect.

“Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness,” the letter warns. It cautions that several countries in Asia and Europe have increased their research intensities at a much greater pace than the US, threatening the nation’s long-term leadership position in science, technology and innovation.

“Allowing blunt cuts to R&D to go forward will only accelerate these trends,” the letter says.

“Our nation's leaders are wrestling with our dire financial problems, and we applaud their efforts,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “While we recognize the constraints, it would be utterly foolish to damage the best hope for economic health: our science and technology capability.”

Robert Lieberman, chair of the SPIE committee on engineering science and technology policy, emphasized the importance of federal funding of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and R&D on competitiveness in technologies enabled by optics and photonics.

He cited findings of the recent National Academies report Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation on “the crucial role education plays in ensuring a vibrant future.” He also noted the trend of domestic workforce shrinkage in STEM fields.

“Today, the United States has many outstanding universities that educate students from around the world in the classroom and in research laboratories,” the report said. However, the number of US nationals in graduate programs at top optics schools is as low as 40 percent.

“If the United States continues to shrink its STEM workforce and market share in photonics, innovations in research will bolster the economy and the defense technology of countries poised to take advantage of those advances.”

Sequestration would require up to $12 billion in R&D funding cuts annually across defense and nondefense programs over the next decade, the letter says. Among the impacts:

  • DARPA would lose more than $1 billion for cutting-edge innovation. 
  • The National Institutes of Health would lose $11.3 billion for research on medical challenges, including those related to cancer, obesity, aging and emerging diseases. 
  • The Department of Energy would lose $4.6 billion through 2017 for next-generation energy research and nonproliferation R&D. 
  • The National Science Foundation would lose $2.1 billion over five years for research across a broad spectrum of disciplines, most of which is cutting-edge research conducted at universities throughout the nation. 

For more information, visit: www.spie.org


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