Given this rather bleak financial landscape, I was truly honored and thrilled to be representing the Botanical Society of America at the 2014 Congressional Visits Day this past week to advocate for federal science funding. The message I was delivering was simple and straightforward: sustained real growth in funding for the sciences. In its current form, President Obama's budget proposal for FY 2015 requests $1.014 trillion for discretionary spending, with $135.4 billion set aside specifically for federal scientific research and development (of which about $65 billion would be used specifically for research). While this does represent an overall increase in funding to science R&D over last year's budget (+1.2% relative to FY 2014), this is still well below the anticipated 1.7% increase in inflation for 2015, and, if our nation wants to maintain our stronghold in the sciences, this is not sustainable. But this is not news; as alluded to before, science funding remained flat for much of the 2000's (with the exception of 2009, which benefited from the stimulus package) and from 2010-2014 funding was likewise either stagnant or reduced.
Of the $135.4 billion for science R&D in President Obama's proposal, $7.255 billion is designated as the budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides 24% of all federal funding for basic research at universities/non-profits in America and 66% of all biological/environmental research. This is highly disconcerting, as the number of researchers earning PhD degrees in science has nearly doubled from about 450,000 to 800,000 in the last decade. Thus, while America's institutions are generating highly qualified scientists, those scientists are finding it nearly impossible to do the research they were trained to do (funding rate for proposals to NSF is about 4-5%). Furthermore, if the proposed budget is passed, NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) program, under which my area of research falls, would be the victim of the largest cut in funding for FY 2015 (-$12.75 million compared to FY 2014). Thus, while I was in D.C. to generally advocate for sustained real growth, I was specifically there to ask for $7.5 billion in federal support for NSF for FY 2015, which, though still under the predicted level of inflation, is $245 million more than currently proposed.
Despite such stagnation in federal funding, science R&D nevertheless remains a cornerstone of America's society and economy. As President Obama pointed out in his 2014 State of the Union, without such federal financial support, we wouldn't have things like Google, smart phones, vaccines, or paper-thin materials that are stronger than steel. Moreover, for every dollar of federal investments in the sciences, about $2 is returned. In my home state of Missouri, nearly 25% of jobs require some degree of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) training. Federal investments in science have helped to make America a world leader. Join me in advocating for sustained real growth in federal funding for science to ensure our future is as bright as our past.
Source of figure: The 2014 Budget: A World-Leading Commitment to Science and Research