The Moment of Truth Spares U.S. Science

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

The final report by the U.S. National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, released this morning, contains a long list of tax increases and spending cuts needed to shrink the federal deficit. And although no sectors of the economy are excluded, the bipartisan presidential panel treats research with kid gloves. Even its proposal to clamp down hard on discretionary spending, the category under which all civilian research is funded, wouldn't necessarily translate into automatic reductions for federally funded science.

The 66-page report, previewed last month by its co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, doesn't mention any federal research agency, much less any particular program. And despite its pretentious title, The Moment of Truth, Simpson acknowledged that the report "may be buried in an unmarked grave" by the next Congress and the White House.

Even so, the research community may be heartened to know that a third of the commission's nine "Guiding Principles and Values" includes an endorsement of what it calls "high-value research," to wit:

Cut and invest to promote economic growth and keep America competitive. We should cut red tape and unproductive government spending that hinders job creation and growth. At the same time, we must invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs."

Likewise, its recommendation for a "cut-and-invest" committee to wield a sharp spending knife each year talks about "high-priority investments" that must be preserved, namely:

The Commission recommends creating a new, bipartisan Cut-and-Invest Committee to be charged each year with identifying 2 percent of the discretionary budget that should be cut and identifying how to redirect half of that savings, or 1 percent, into high-value investment. Over the next decade, the Cut-and-Invest Committee will be expected to recommend more than $200 billion in discretionary cuts, freeing up $100 billion for high-priority investments America will need to remain competitive, such as increasing college graduation rates, leveraging private capital through an infrastructure bank, and expanding high-value research and development in energy and other critical areas.

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