OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Budget pressures raise research funding concerns

02/13/1997

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A report issued today by a national science organization raises dire warnings about further cuts in research funding at a time when such budgets should be increasing, not shrinking, officials say.

The study was released today in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It suggests that the nation's universities may soon be facing major reductions in federal funding for scientific research as a result of pressure to balance the federal budget in the next seven years.

This could lead to reductions in civilian research and development funding of as much as 25 to 33 percent by 2002 - and among other impacts, threaten high technology industries and universities of the Pacific Northwest.

Some cuts are already in place - the Office of Naval Research just reduced basic research by 10 percent for this fiscal year. But other political initiatives give hope that critical needs in this area can be met, said Richard Scanlan, dean of research at Oregon State University.

Such cuts, he said, would run directly contrary to the pressing need for more basic research and the recent focus on education by President Clinton in his State of the Union address.

"We understand the budgetary pressures at the federal level and take them very seriously," Scanlan said. "And it's true that some approaches call for taking more and more funds from an increasingly small portion of the federal budget, especially the discretionary spending that funds research."

But in the past, Scanlan said, when the public and political leaders have carefully considered the real programs that would be cut - critical studies on the environment, advanced technology, agriculture, health and other fields - they often decided to look elsewhere for cost savings.

"Research and development, both at our universities and in private industry, is the engine that drives our economy, improves our standard of living, and helps give students a state-of-the-art education," Scanlan said.

"When people really think about where to save money, cutting on research doesn't make much sense," he said. "That's the basis for future advances."

The crux of the problem, Scanlan said, is that about two-thirds of the federal budget is now consumed by debt service and entitlement programs that political leaders are very reluctant to reduce. Defense spending absorbs about half of the remainder.

So virtually everything else the federal government does, according to one recent estimate, has to come out of just 17 percent of the budget. That puts enormous pressure on all discretionary spending programs.

In this environment, the funding needs of major research universities face a real risk, Scanlan said - although in recent years the caliber and scope of OSU research has actually led to an increase in overall funding, from about $110 million in 1994 to $135 million in fiscal year 1995-96.

A few signs are promising, Scanlan said.

Earlier this year a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate, titled the National Research Investment Act of 1997, which would double non-defense civilian research budgets over the next 10 years - from $32.5 billion in 1997 to $65 billion by 2007. It calls for a major increase in basic research in science and medicine.

Followed by that, President Clinton made improvements in education, science and technology a key focus in his State of the Union address.

Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology at OSU and current president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will tell that group on Saturday that it's time for scientists to make a new "social contract" with America, in which scientific missions driven by the fears of the Cold War are replaced by critically needed new research on the environment, ecology, and many other fields.

Scanlan said that as future budget battles are under way it will be important to make the public and political leaders continually aware of the benefits of research.

At OSU, for instance, the ability to carry out meaningful research helps to attract quality faculty, directly supports the education of many students and keeps educators at the forefront of their fields. And it's tackling many problems of global importance, from the greenhouse effect to pollution cleanup and cutting-edge advances in high technology.

The studies also provide a major stimulus to Oregon business and industry and have allowed university researchers to obtain 36 patents in the past four years, as part of OSU's aggressive technology transfer and business outreach programs.