SPIE leaders said they were encouraged to see proposed increases in funds for scientific research and development and a greater emphasis on STEM education in President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal released last Wednesday. At the same time, they stressed the importance of making applied research high priority, and expressed concerns about some funding levels.
The White House proposal includes an 8.4 percent increase over the 2012 enacted level for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Funding would rise for the NSF to an annual $7.6 billion. The budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would increase by 5.7 percent, to $5 billion.
All told, the President’s 2014 budget proposes $143 billion for federal research and development, providing a 1 percent increase over 2012 levels for all R&D, and an increase of 9 percent for non-defense R&D.
“While the budget continues this Adminstration’s unflinching support for science and recognition of the importance of photonics to our future economy and health, I have some concerns,” said Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. “In these times of constraint, It is very encouraging to see proposed increases for NSF, DOE science, and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), and the investment in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) earth observations program is overdue. But it is disturbing to see both NASA and NIH R&D budgets reduced, in real terms.”
Arthurs said that the decrease for NIH is particularly troubling because health issues are changing with demographics and risks are expanding with global disease mobility. He cited recognition by NIH director Francis Collins of the potential for imaging coupled with the power and possible economies from more use of data tools as ways to address those challenges.
A strong proposal, Arthurs said, is the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative announced by the President. The initiative would be launched with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and NSF.
“The decrease in real terms, compared with 2012 budgets, for defense basic and applied research and advanced technology development is worrying,” Arthurs said. “We need to better understand the deep cuts in defense development when this is where our security has come from and also where for decades there has been much spillover into our tech industry.”
To remain competitive in the global economy, the nation would benefit from even stronger support of applied research, Arthurs said.
“Canada and the European Union are among regions that have established policies focusing priority on applied research, and for good reason,” he said. “Applied research is concerned with creating real value through solving specific problems ― creating new energy sources, finding new cures for disease, and strengthening the security and stability of communication systems. Its metrics are improvements in the functioning of society as a whole and in the quality of individual human lives, not those of laboratory animals, and in patents and new inventions that spark economic growth, not just journal citations.”
That focus on applications is reflected in work being done by the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) committee to raise awareness of the positive force of photonics on the economy and encourage policy that promotes its development. Born out of the National Academies report issued last year on “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation,” the NPI is being driven by five scientific societies: SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics; OSA; LIA; IEEE Photonics Society; and APS.
The President’s budget proposal also moves 90 STEM programs across 11 different agencies under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. This "reorganization" aims to "improve the delivery, impact, and visibility of STEM efforts," the budget document said.