Penn President Judith Rodin last month asked President Bill Clinton to increase federal investment in basic research. Noting bi-partisan proposals that would double federal support for research in the next 10 years, Rodin called upon Clinton "to take the lead on this issue."
Rodin, who serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, urged Clinton to boost budgets for science across the board. She noted that investments in science today will determine the quality of our lives in the future.
The administration seems to be heeding her counsel: The President will propose increasing next year's budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) by 7.4 and 9 percent respectively, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). A big budget request for NSF would be a break with the past.
In recent years, among the federal agencies that support research, only NIH has seen its budget grow, increasing at a rate of about 7 percent a year for the past three years while other budgets have declined or remained flat. But this year, according to AAAS, in addition to biomedical research, the administration plans to emphasize computer science, global climate change research and energy-saving technologies.
In 1996 NIH funded 75 percent of the University's approximately $300 million federally-sponsored research budget, said Vice Provost for Research Ralph Amado, which is about one quarter of Penn's entire operating budget. Penn, he said, ranks 17th in the nation in science and engineering research.
"Congress has been very generous to biomedical research, which has been good for Penn scientists and the public," Amado said. But he also pointed out that NSF, the departments of Defense, Energy, and Education, not to mention the National Endowment for the Humanities, also contribute "significant resources" towards research and training of Penn faculty and students.
Amado pointed out that Penn's faculty share of federal research funding has remained constant over the past decade, while other Ivy League institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Cornell have seen steep, double-digit declines during the same period. Penn researchers are "very competitive," he said, but noted that it is critical now more than ever to make the public case for broad-based investment investment in science and technology.
In fact, according to Carol Scheman, vice president for Government, Community and Public Affairs, major advances even in medicine today are just as likely to come from discoveries in physics, chemistry, and the social sciences as they are in biology. She emphasized that national science policy must address the entire research enterprise. That includes, she noted, not only research grants and training but also infrastructure and instrumentation. "We must," she said, "educate members of Congress regarding the interconnected nature of the university-based research enterprise."
Originally published on January 14, 1998