The-Scientist.com, January 27, 2010, by Bob Grant¬† —¬† When he addresses the nation tonight (27th January), US President Obama is expected to call for a three-year freeze on federal spending for any programs not dealing with the military or homeland defense. But with the budget boosts for federal science agencies provided by 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act drying up in 2011, science advocates are concerned that Obama’s funding freeze may spell the steep budgetary drop-off in the next fiscal year that many dread.
“Certainly it does concern us,” Kerry Peluso, associate vice president for research administration at Emory University in Atlanta, told The Scientist. “We want to see our researchers continue to be able to do their research.”

Though the announcement is not yet official, the White House has released some details of the proposed freeze in the run up to Obama’s State of the Union address tonight and the release of his FY2011 budget proposal, which is slated for Monday (1st February). “The three-year freeze over the course of 10 years will save on the order of $250 billion,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs at a White House press briefing yesterday.

In an entry posted yesterday on The White House Blog, Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economist and economic policy adviser Jared Bernstein said that Obama’s freeze would be more like surgery and less like a hatchet job. “…the entire theory of the President’s proposed freeze is to dial up the stuff that will support job growth and innovation while dialing down the stuff that doesn’t,” Bernstein wrote. “Under our plan, some discretionary spending will go up; some will go down. That’s a big difference from a hatchet.”

But some aren’t entirely convinced that science funding will be spared the axe. “We are extremely concerned about the proposed freeze on non-security discretionary spending, particularly in light of the compelling evidence that an innovation-driven economy is the future,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of science advocacy group Research!America. “We’re looking to the President for national priority-setting that’s consistent with that goal.”

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), another science advocacy organization, is holding out hope that Obama’s past statements on the importance of science and research in rebuilding the economy portend a reprieve for federal research funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. “We’re hopeful that science is enough of a priority in the president’s agenda that the scientific agencies we care about will not be included [in the freeze],” FASEB spokesperson Carrie Wolinetz told The Scientist. “It’s something that we’re waiting to hear more details about.”

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