In an era of a changing climate and high energy prices, U.S. energy innovation is critical for future prosperity for America. Federal support for research and development (R&D) for a range of cutting edge technologies has long provided the underpinnings for economic growth. A look back at a history of government support, particularly from programs led by the Departments of Energy and Defense, demonstrates time and time again that federal R&D support can lead to successful technological breakthroughs.
Looking forward, with rising powers around the world, it is more important than ever to adequately fund a variety of science and technology fields to create the innovations of tomorrow.
However, science funding is under threat from looming budget cuts, and critical R&D programs may become casualties in deficit reduction efforts.
Recently, the group Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a group of private sector and military leaders, hosted a roundtable discussing its new report on “National Strategy for Energy Security.”
During the event, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) argued that Congress should double the Department of Energy’s R&D funding to usher in new scientific breakthroughs that could reduce American dependency on oil and help close the federal deficit.
Similarly, Politico reported that the White House is undertaking efforts to shield the R&D budget from cuts during fiscal cliff negotiations.
Taken together, the comments demonstrate a sense of bipartisan support for science R&D as well as an interest from both sides of the aisle in investing in energy technology that will lead to innovation.
The support for the science budget comes at a time when funding is actually significantly lower than in previous years. Adjusting for inflation, federal funding for energy-related R&D has fallen by 70 percent between 1978 and 2006, from nearly $7 billion to just $2 billion.
Still, science funding could be cut if Congress fails to prevent sequestration, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years. Sequestration would cut an estimate $618 million dollars from DoE programs involved in R&D. This would have obvious ramifications on America’s ability to fund advancements in energy.
Even if sequestration is avoided, R&D funding may be slashed as part of a bipartisan package that cuts government spending generally.
Policymakers routinely express a sense of support for R&D in the abstract, but when the rubber meets the road, too often long-term R&D programs are cut. One example is with the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, which conducts research into fusion energy. Although fusion energy promises to produce clean, safe and abundant energy when commercialized, Congress is considering cutting its budget to save money. This short-term thinking is misplaced.
As ASP noted in a fact sheet published a few weeks ago, the American innovation system has opened up new industries from key technological breakthroughs. Examples can be seen with nuclear power, aviation, GPS and the internet, just to name a few.
Cutting science funding now would be a penny saved and a pound foolish. The challenges are too daunting – from rising global energy demand, to resource scarcity, to climate change – technology will be needed to solve the biggest global problems. America certainly needs to get its fiscal house in order, but it also needs to also invest for the future.
For more information about the importance of scientific research and our national security read the ASP fact sheet on science and national security