Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding NSF and NASA, today stepped up his effort to champion federal support for basic research by urging President Bush to triple funding for federal basic research and development over the next decade. Wolf made the request in a letter to Bush (pdf), noting that
America today finds herself at a crossroads when it comes to leading the world in science and innovation. We can continue down the current path, as other nations continue to narrow the gap, or we can take bold, dramatic steps to ensure U.S. economic leadership in the 21st century and a rising standard of living for all Americans.
The letter calls on the President to make a “bold commitment” to invest in the future of the country by tripling of the “innovation budget” — federal basic research — and continues:
We must ensure for future generations that America continues to be the innovation leader of the world. Investing in research and development is a critical part of optimizing our nation for innovation, a process that will require strong leadership and involvement from government, industry, academia and labor. We must choose whether to innovate or abdicate.
Since becoming chair of the reorganized Science, State, Justice, Commerce appropriations committee in January, Wolf has become an outspoken advocate for federal support of fundamental research. As we’ve noted previously, much of the credit for this has to go to the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation and its “Benchmarks” report, from which Wolf apparently grabbed a number of examples for his letter (he’s cited the report elsewhere, as well).
Wolf’s goal in writing to the President isn’t to affect the FY 06 appropriations process directly — after all, at this point the President’s only official role in the FY 06 budget process is to veto or sign the final approps bill — but to encourage the President to make basic research a priority in his FY 2007 budget request. Doing so would give appropriators next year more “headroom” to increase budgets for basic research — headroom sorely lacking this year. This is an approach many groups in the science community (including CRA) are taking as well, in addition to working very hard to get the highest possible funding level in FY 06.
We’ll have more details in the coming weeks on other opportunities for Wolf and others to make the case for federal support of fundamental research. In the meantime, you can read a scan of Wolf’s two-page letter to the President here.