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Issue Pulse: Financial Rescue Impact on Science Funding Uncertain

If Congress resumes Thursday and passes a financial rescue plan, it will have a significant impact on discretionary spending next year. Yesterday, Science and National Geographic both reported on the potential effect a budget crunch will have on federal science funding.

The most relevant immediate factor is the fact that the continuing resolution passed by Congress over the weekend will hold all federal funding at current levels until March of next year. “Most federal programs will continue to operate at or below 2008 funding levels for several months into the new fiscal year,” explain the AAAS budget and policy number crunchers.

National Geographic talked with several science policy experts to get a bead on the factors in play. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

  • “The problem is that if the discretionary budget shrinks, then to keep science whole something else has to shrink even more,” said John Marburger, science adviser to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • NG points out there there simply might not be enough money to go around. “The biggest factor is what’s happening with overall domestic spending,” according to David Goldston, former staff director of the House Science and Technology Committee.
  • Kevin Finneran, editor of Issues in Science and Technology suggested this could be more bad news for the plight of yong researchers: “If lack of funding drives our most promising young people away from careers in research, the long-term damage to science could be significant.”
  • But let’s not forget that U.S. science is a juggernaut. “It’s not particularly debatable that the U.S. has the preeminent [research and development] enterprise in the globe. I think we start from a place of relative health,” said Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes.

While it’s just not possible yet to know exactly what a massive financial package would do to science funding, restoring the health of the economy is critical. Unless we solve the unfolding financial crisis, there won’t be enough money to fund much of anything. Readers interested that issue should check out the proposals on CAP’s homepage.

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