Science projects would boost ailing economy now

March 9, 2009

The Hill

February 11, 2009

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo & Rep. Rush Holt

Science projects would boost ailing economy now


Wecontinue to hear from critics debating the American Recovery andReinvestment Act that government investments will not stimulate theeconomy.

They are wrong.

Funding included in the House stimulus bill for scienceinfrastructure, materials and equipment will create jobs now, not justfor scientists, but also for unemployed blue-collar workers who arestruggling to stay in their homes and keep food on the table.

TheHouse bill, and to a lesser extent the Senate version, would fundalready approved programs and critical research overseen by the U.S.Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), the National ScienceFoundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards andTechnology (NIST). These projects would permit the repair of our aginglaboratories and the construction of new facilities to take us into the21st century.

Making the down payment outlined in theHouse-passed bill would yield significant dividends for an ailingeconomy that is reeling in the wake of nearly 11 million unemployedworkers, chronic underinvestment in our innovation infrastructure, andlagging competitiveness against other countries.  

We are not alone in our assessment.

Accordingto a recently released report by the Information Technology &Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank organization inWashington, "Spurring an additional $20 billion in our nationalresearch infrastructure will create or retain approximately 402,000American jobs for one year."

The report, "Stim-Novation:Investing in Research to Spur Innovation and Boost Jobs," also notesthat funding science in the recovery bill would create and retain asizeable number of jobs in a wide array of occupations, includingconstruction workers, technicians, and machinists making scientificequipment.

Both House and Senate versions of the billprovide for vital research carried out by the NIST, the NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics andSpace Administration, including studies to enhance manufacturingcompetitiveness, energy efficiency, communications technology andclimate modeling.

These agencies also would receive badlyneeded funding for their facilities, employing construction andmanufacturing laborers across the country.

Unfortunately, theSenate bill does not include $2 billion for scientific infrastructureunder the DOE Office of Science or $1.8 billion for NSF programs thatfund construction, scientific instrumentation and research. Withoutthese funds, many researchers on the verge of finding transformationalways to revolutionize the way we power our cars, store energy and treator detect diseases will not be able to proceed with their critical work.

TheHouse-passed bill would permit much-needed scientific infrastructureprojects to move forward. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, theleading national laboratory developing the knowledge base for cleanfusion energy, could improve its infrastructure, operate its existingfacilities much more effectively and seize new scientific opportunities.

SLACNational Accelerator Laboratory in California would be able to addresspressing needs by replacing substandard modular buildings and trailersthat are well beyond their intended useful life with a new ResearchSupport Building. Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., wouldfinally be able to replace the antiquated National Synchrotron LightSource (NSLS) with NSLS-II. The design and engineering of NSLS-II wascompleted two years ago, but the construction, which would createnearly 1,000 manufacturing and construction jobs within 120 days, hasbeen put on hold because of a lack of funding.

The Senateversion also would shortchange the NSF's Major Research InstrumentationProgram. Scientists require state-of-the-art equipment andinstrumentation to develop essential discoveries and innovations. If wefail to upgrade the instruments, we run the risk of losing bright,talented scientists who will go abroad to conduct their research. Manyof these same scientists continue to work in substandard World WarII-era facilities. It is unreasonable to expect our nation's best andbrightest minds to formulate solutions to our most urgent problemsunder such conditions.  Forcing them to do so would be like having themuse matchsticks and cellophane tape to build the next Space Shuttle.

Asthe merits of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are debated,we must not underestimate the value of science to our national economy.