News | April 15, 2008

Senate Science Funding Support Lauded By Optics Community

Bellingham, WA — Support for science funding expressed in a recent letter sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee by eight U.S. Senators is being applauded by SPIE members and others in the optics industry.

Comments on the Senators' advocacy for science underscore the message carried to Congress in the Science-Education-Technology Working Group Congressional Visits Day earlier in the month: The country must invest in research and education now in order to continue to be a world leader in science and technology.

"The research funding shortfalls of recent years have severely hampered our nation's ability to train the next generation of scientific leaders at a time when other countries are rapidly increasing their investment in scientific research," said Thomas T. Lee, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Stanford University. "Funding for 2008 is desperately needed to keep us from falling farther behind. I thank the Senators for their leadership on this issue."

Lee, who was a member of SPIE's Congressional Visits Day volunteers, sees the impact of funding decision from the close perspective of a graduate student. "I was fortunate to have my thesis research funded by NSF," he said. "However, I have watched in dismay as some of my younger colleagues have struggled to make progress because they can't get funding. One had to suspend his graduate studies because of it.

"The New Mexico Optics Industry Association thanks our senators for their support of supplemental funding for science," association director Ed Spivak said. "It is wonderful to have two senators who strongly support science and education. It's great for New Mexico and for the nation."

Both of New Mexico's senators — Jeff Bingaman (D) and Pete Domenici (R) — signed the March 17 letter, as did senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bob Corker (R-TN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The letter asks for $350M in additional current-year funding for the DOE Office of Science and the National Science Foundation, said Richard M. Johnson of the American Institute of Physics. Under their proposal, $250M would be allocated to the Office of Science, and $100M to the National Science Foundation.

The fiscal-year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act that was passed in late December fell substantially short of the Administration's requests for the DOE Office of Science, NSF, and research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Under the American Competitiveness Initiative, funding for the three agencies would be doubled over ten years. NSF's fiscal-year 2008 appropriation was $364M less than the request. The DOE Office of Science appropriation was almost $504M less than what was requested. NIST's research budget was approximately $60M under the request.

When Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Bill it provided only partial war funding, with the understanding that additional (supplemental) funding would be appropriated this year. This supplemental appropriations bill may come before Congress in the next few weeks.