A U.S. Senate subcommittee recently took the right action on science budgets by voting to boost federal research funding in key programs that help maintain the nation’s economic growth.

But President Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget contains deeps cuts to scientific research, and it will take more than just that one Senate vote to establish a better path.

The House must do its part. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is a member of the House Energy and Water Development appropriations subcommittee, a subcommittee that has shown a willingness to support the federal research investment. Rep. Fortenberry must now work with his colleagues in the House to vote for robust, sustained budgets for federal science agencies.

A lot is at stake. The president’s spending plan calls for huge funding decreases to the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Institutes of Health. These federal agencies support cutting-edge research to address the nation’s most-pressing challenges, including our national security, education and health care.

Since the end of World War II, economists have determined that more than half of the nation’s economic growth can be traced to scientific discoveries and spin-off innovations, according to a 2014 report by the American Academy of the Arts & Sciences: “Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Preserving the American Dream.” Those innovations have touched every part of our state economy — from advances in agriculture that have dramatically increased our crop yields, to breakthroughs in construction, manufacturing, and energy.

My own physics research, funded by the NSF and conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has supported more than 90 UNL students during the last quarter of a century as they prepare for productive careers in an increasingly technology-driven society. Many of them work right here in the state of Nebraska.

Research that my students do has led to better ways to measure temperature and stabilize lasers. It has also provided deeper insight into the photochemistry of the upper atmosphere — here and on Jupiter.

During the past 25 years, NSF-funded research helped make us a world leader in innovation, by supporting research in the U.S. that led to 74 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics. There’s a benefit to having those breakthroughs happen here at home: A 1 percentage point increase in public research and development investment as a share of GDP corresponds to a 10 percent increase in economic growth, according to a 2012 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. 

Yet President Trump wants to cut the NSF’s budget by 11 percent. If he is serious about making America great again, slashing the funding most responsible for maintaining our leadership in scientific exploration is a particularly poor way to start. Rep. Fortenberry and members of the House must reject the president’s proposed cuts to science.

Robust, reliable scientific funding is crucial for keeping the United States a global leader. But the United States has not kept pace with its counterparts in other parts of the world, including in Europe and Asia, where countries are ramping up their research and development programs.

It’s clear to me, and history has proved, that investing in scientific research is a win-win for everyone. I urge Rep. Fortenberry and the House to make the necessary investment to keep our nation on a path that will lead to more innovation, boost economic growth and create jobs for all Americans.

Timothy Gay is the Willa Cather Professor of Physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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