Nuclear Weapons

Will the President address science policy, education and biosecurity in his State of The Union?

01.30.06 | 4 min read | Text by Michael Stebbins & Ivan Oelrich

FAS hopes the President will take the opportunity to send the right message to the American public and ditch political rhetoric in his State of the Union.

FAS is deeply concerned that the nation is headed in the wrong direction on critical science issues that affect our health, national security, environment and economic future. The President has an opportunity to change that starting with his State of the Union address on January 31st. Specifically, we would like the President to take scientific research funding, science education funding, and biosecurity more seriously then he has in the past.

Research investment:

In his 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush stated his view of science funding:

“Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life. Medical research can help us reach that goal, by developing treatments and cures that save lives and help people overcome disabilities — and I thank the Congress for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health.” 11 months later he cut the budget for the NIH for the first time in 36 years when he signed the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

The cuts were crafted in an opaque budget process and cloaked in a blizzard of misleading statistics. The actual buying power of NIH research declined by at least 2.5% because of Congress’s and the President’s lack of support for research. In addition, the President approved cuts for funding for energy conservation by at least 3.5% and solar and renewable energy funding was cut by 10%.

In addition, the rampant earmarking of research dollars to funnel money into congressional districts without scientific review and analysis of the most effective way to spend research money undermines our ability to advance. The proportion of Congressionally directed research spending increased by 13% from last year and nearly 21.3% of all funding for energy research is now earmarked. Nearly 60% of all biomass research, 28% of hydrogen research, and 33% of wind and hydro power research is congressionally directed without significant review for technical merit. 97% of the overall FY2006 increase in R+D funding will go for applied defense research and manned space programs. This determination was not made through rigorous analysis of overall need. This is not the right way to build an economy and not the right way to speed progress.

Biosecurity and public health preparedness:

In his 2003 State of the Union address President Bush asked the Congress for $6 billion for project Bioshield stating that the goal was to use this money “to quickly make available effective vaccines and treatments against agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, ebola and plague.”

Congress funded Project Bioshield at $5.6 billion, but it has produced little in the way of results. The intention of the program was to entice drug companies into developing biodefense countermeasures. It has failed to do this by every unbiased measure and the major contract for the production of 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine went to a company that had never brought a drug to market. All totaled, the government has spent close to 18 billion dollars on biodefense since 2001 with little in the way of accountability.

Biodefense preparedness and public health preparedness go hand in hand. This past fall, the President asked Congress, for $7.1 billion dollars for a “crash program” for the development of new vaccine technologies to fight influenza, but Congress only gave him $3.8 billion, mainly for flu vaccines and medicines. We are very far from being prepared and the President’s target of being ready by 2010 and it is still unclear who in the government would coordinate efforts in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. This is unacceptable. We would like to hear the President call for accountability and funding to prepare the nation for public health emergencies and for him to take a stronger leadership role in getting the nation ready.

Science education:

The US currently ranks behind most western nations in high school science education. The President is expected to remark on how America can turn the tide and maintain its competitive edge by improving teacher training and providing economic incentives for science and technology training.

This is a familiar theme that we have heard before, but the President’s No Child Left Behind policy has actually worsened the situation by not including science testing as part of schools’ Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) score. This means that, in the eyes of school administrators, science takes a back seat to English and math.

A 2005 report from the National Academy of Sciences concluded “.. the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding…Although many people assume that the United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case…We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost and the difficulty of recovering..” We need the President to call on the Department of Education to step up and devote more efforts to science education. We need the President to take this issue seriously and provide the nation with a comprehensive plan to rectify the situation. We are not just talking about improving our children’s potential. The nation requires it to ensure economic prosperity and stability in the future. We will be viewing his words closely and his actions more closely in the future.