Scientists Step Up Lobbying Efforts
Threatened by budget cuts, universities, association and companies are banding together to protect R&D spending
The nation's research centers are quietly assembling a nationwide lobbying organization to battle against deep cuts in federal research spending expected as lawmakers try to balance the national budget.
The lobbying effort driven by universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., is being backed by the infotech industry, which acquires much of its new technology and ideas from universities, said Samuel Fuller, vice president for research at Digital Equipment Corp., Maynard, Mass. "That's where the country gets the most bang for its bucks," he said.
Fuller spoke at a public meeting held in Congress June 19, where panels of scientists appealed for funding to several senators, including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio.
The senators urged stronger support for research and called on the research community to press for greater government support. The science community's lobbying efforts are focused on the preservation of government research funding, which is now at $71.2 billion. This focus overshadows other proposals to boost commercial research with tax breaks and deregulation.
Officials at technology-focused universities are concerned that their many research and engineering centers could lose much of their roughly $12.5 billion in federal funding if the government follows through on plans to balance the national budget by 2002. Republican and White House balanced-budget plans promise to cut the government's non-military R&D spending 25 percent to $26 billion by 2002, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pentagon R&D spending is also expected to decline from its 1996 level of $35.9 billion.
Ballooning entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, threaten to drain the R&D programs, warned Al Teich, head of the public policy office at the Washington-based science association.
"Entitlements are going up dramatically.... We will have less money to invest in our future," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.The various pro-technology universities, industrial and professional associations, think tanks and companies are coordinating their efforts via several ad-hoc committees, including the Science Coalition, the Coalition for Technology Partnerships and the Science and Technology Work Group.
The Science Coalition was formed last June, and now includes 360 infotech and health science groups. The coalition is intended to educate government officials about the great value of university-based research. Its members include the Information Technology Association of America, Hewlett-Packard Co. and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers - USA.
The Science and Technology Work Group is intended to help pro-research groups coordinate their advocacy efforts, said Kathleen Rehm, a lobbyist at the Washington-based office of the American Chemical Society. The work group is also trying to form a grassroots network of scientists and engineers willing to lobby their local member of Congress on upcoming votes that affect R&D spending, she said.
The Coalition for Technology Partnerships is run by Kathleen Kingscott, a Washington-based lobbyist for IBM Corp. It includes more than 100 companies, and is intended to prevent the Republicans from wiping out the Pentagon's dual-use research programs and the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program, which award funds to promising industry-led research projects.
The three organizations are holding seminars, scheduling meetings with congressional staffers, issuing press releases and announcing studies that show the importance of R&D to the nation's economic growth.
Republicans, led by Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Committee on Science, say the ATP funds subsidize corporate research instead of bolstering the basic research performed by universities.
The science groups work in tandem with lobbyists from companies such as IBM, as well as associations and think tanks. "There is a coming together more than in previous years," driven by the threat of reduced funding," said Peter McPherson, president of Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.
Despite Congress approving plans to impose deep cuts to science programs, most elements of the science lobby enjoyed some success in the last year.
For example, the health lobby convinced the congressional appropriations committees to boost funding for the National Institutes of Health. Also, the National Science Foundation may yet see its 1997 budget increase compared to 1996, partly because it may gain funds at the expense of the ATP program. Even the ATP program, targeted by the Republicans for elimination, survived and is funded at $207 million, partly because President Bill Clinton vigorously supported the ATP and other technology programs.
To win funding for R&D, science proponents must emphasize technology's spur to economic growth and show that federal spending is repaid by the economic and social benefits of technology, said Kevin Casey, director of government relations at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Government and industry officials also argue that other governments, such as Japan's, will soon outstrip U.S. non-military research spending.
U.S. government funding is vital for the universities, said Casey, despite the universities having earned $3 billion from companies' use of their technology during the last four years. "There is nothing that can replace it," he said.
Companies won't support the basic research that is conducted by universities, even though the corporations benefit greatly, partly because competitive pressures are reducing companies' R&D spending, now set at roughly $70 billion per year, said Fuller. Also, executives are loathe to sponsor long-term research that won't quickly generate a return in the fast-paced commercial marketplace, and are unwilling to subsidize university research that will eventually benefit rival companies once the research data is published, said Fuller.
"There is no other source for the funding than the government. Industry will not do it," said Leon Cooper, a professor at Brown University, Providence, R.I., and the winner of a Nobel Prize for Physics.
For example, Columbia University's 1,000 research groups receive $200 million of their $300 million in funding from the government, said Michael Crow, a vice provost at Columbia. The college earned $45 million from commercial use of its technology during the same period, he said.
However, scientists and industry officials say they are stepping up their search for alternatives to government funding.
Skip Johns, an associate director to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, said one way to boost R&D would be to provide a tax break for long-term investment by industry. However, that proposal has few active backers in industry, he said. To win such a change, "you're asking for a very revolutionary societal financial change.... I don't think anyone is [lobbying for it]," said Rehm.
Another way to boost R&D would be to further deregulate industry, said Fuller. For example, the government should give the infotech industry a boost by relaxing its controls over the export of encryption technology, he said.
Also, industry should try to pool its R&D efforts, Fuller said. "We would do well with other [research] consortiums like SEMATECH," which greatly helped the U.S. chip-making industry compete with Japanese rivals in the 1980s.
Government spending should also be focused on the programs that yield the greatest benefit, Fuller said. For example, spending on the ATP program should be diverted to support university research, he said.
Doug Olesen, president of Battelle Memorial Institute, which operates Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., with funding provided by the Department of Energy, called for more partnerships between industry and universities, and for a reduction of government oversight on research funding.
The government should also step up efforts to protect intellectual property rights, said several scientists. For example, IEEE officials have called on the government to create a new type of patent that would allow scientists to license "useful articles," such as a new production technique.
If the government could somehow ensure scientists received proper payment for the fruits of their basic research, such as the discovery of superconductivity, "we'd be rolling in money," said Cooper.