Guest Commentary: Congress must do its job and support federal research funding

Richard Galbraith, John Evans and Briar Alpert of the University of Vermont and BioTek explain why continued (and increased) funding of the life sciences is critical for our well-being and our future

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At the University of Vermont’s May 2017 board of trustees meeting, a trustee asked this question in open session about the White House’s recent budget proposal: “How would the proposed cuts to federal agencies like National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) impact research at UVM?”
The short answer? Significantly. The reductions would curtail our efforts to make new discoveries across a range of fronts—from biomedicine to nutrition to engineering to the physical sciences—that could be of great benefit to Vermont and society at large. 
Fortunately, the president’s budget proposal, which cuts NIH by 22 percent, NSF by 11 percent and the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, is just that—a proposal. Congress is responsible for appropriating funds, and it is essential that members continue their long tradition of bipartisanship in both understanding the importance of science and engineering and in supporting federal investment in basic and applied scientific research.
Vermont’s delegation is doing its part. We applaud Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch for supporting research funding in the recently passed 2017 appropriations and urge them to further strengthen our national commitment to investing in scientific research as they negotiate the 2018 budget.
Why is it important to fully fund scientific research and development? 
First and foremost, because it changes people’s lives for the better. Better health and welfare for citizens, safer and more reliable transportation, electricity and water systems, cleaner lakes and rivers—there is clear and direct correlation between academic research (which is, at its core, the creation of new knowledge) and quality of life.
Research also improves our economy. Although they only account for about 5 percent of the nation’s workforce, scientists and engineers have created jobs across the U.S., according to a Congressional Research Service report. Furthermore, research based on work by economist Robert M. Solow shows that U.S. investments in scientific and engineering R&D have created millions of jobs and improved state economies across the nation, accounting for more than half of all U.S. economic growth since World War II.
There is also a significant local economic impact. Life-sciences businesses in Vermont are clean, offering high-paying jobs with good benefits. These companies also tend to be net exporters, selling nationally and international while investing locally. The direct and indirect contribution to the state’s economy is substantial, growing jobs in Vermont, while also adding to the tax base. By some estimates, for every life-sciences company hire there are three new jobs created within the community. (See Raleigh-Durham Life Sciences 2017 Report.)
Investments in R&D are also essential to maintaining U.S. leadership in innovation. Other countries recognize the enormous value of R&D and the foundation it lays for enhancing 21st century economic growth and global competitiveness. For example, from 2000 to 2013, China’s investments in R&D grew 17 percent, South Korea’s 8.3 percent, and Russia’s 8.2 percent, while the U.S. stagnated. There is a clear trend among global leaders that investing in R&D is a critical factor in determining a nation’s ability to grow its economy and help solve challenging problems.
Benefits like these are why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported continued investment in basic and applied research. Across every industry and sector, investment in R&D provides clear opportunities for Americans and advances economic prosperity.
We urge Congress to invest in R&D and continue its longstanding support for propelling American innovation and economic prosperity. When the government, science, and business sectors work together, millions of Americans and people around the world live more prosperous lives.

Richard Galbraith is the vice president for research at the University of Vermont, John Evans is a former dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and the president of the Vermont Technology Council and Briar Alpert is the CEO of BioTek and a member of the board of trustees at the University of Vermont.

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