Higher Education Group Lashes Out At Congress For Research Cuts

Janette Dunder of Alexandria, Va., protests outside the Capitol building as Congress continues the budget battle Monday, Sept
Janette Dunder of Alexandria, Va., protests outside the Capitol building as Congress continues the budget battle Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Washington. President Barack Obama ramped up pressure on Republicans Monday to avoid a post-midnight government shutdown, saying that failure to pass a short-term spending measure to keep agencies operating would "throw a wrench into the gears" of a recovering economy. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

A group representing a multitude of business and education interests sent a letter to Congress and the White House Friday, warning that the nation's "innovation deficit" will continue to grow if funding for university research and science education is not considered in negotiations over the government shutdown, sequester and debt limit.

The Task Force on American Innovation, a research advocacy group, wrote:

We understand the broader fiscal pressures our nation faces and applaud your focus on this fundamental challenge ... However, undermining the nation's support for research and STEM education will not help resolve this problem; instead it will exacerbate it, slowing down the engine that drives the innovation and economic growth that are necessary to long-term deficit and debt reduction.

This effort to close the "innovation deficit" is led by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the presidents and chancellors of their member universities. The Task Force also has corporate members, including Intel, Microsoft, Google and Dow Chemical.

The federal shutdown has put a stop to some research, while delaying the approval and processing of future research grant requests. The federal government frequently sponsors research at universities through grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Both agencies are facing major furloughs -- with three-fourths of NIH employees and almost all NSF employees considered "nonessential" in the shutdown.

The letter warned that a lack of attention to the importance of science and research spending could have a long-term economic drag on the country.

"The many companies, universities, and scientific societies that this Task Force represents share their view that our role as the world’s innovation leader is in serious jeopardy due to inadequate federal support for research and STEM education," the group wrote. "We believe that America must maintain a commitment to its competitiveness and future innovation capabilities. This commitment is vital to short- and long-term economic growth, especially in the competitive global economy."

The letter follows a previous note issued lambasting cuts to higher education research, signed by more than 165 university presidents and chancellors, including public, private and Ivy League institutions.

The Task Force was formed in 2004 and has been advocating for federal support of research. The group along with higher education organizations have been responding to the devastating cuts to federally funded research imposed by the sequester. The cuts were just some of the across-the-board spending reductions mandated as a result of Congress' failure to compromise on a budget in 2011.

The American Council on Education, a higher education group based in Washington, D.C., asked colleges in a statement this week to play a part in spurring public debate over the "ongoing political paralysis."

"We call on higher education institutions around the country to engage in conversations, lectures, and events, both on and off campus, that bring together students, business and community leaders, and the public," Molly Corbett Broad, ACE's president, wrote. "We should focus attention on the processes that ensure responsible government and sound budget policy."