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SPIE Urges Congress, President to Avoid Fiscal Cliff and Support Science and Technology to Strengthen Economy

Bellingham, WA (PRWEB) December 10, 2012

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and other science, engineering, and education organizations are urging the President and Congress to find a balanced, bipartisan plan including tax and entitlement reform to avoid the fiscal cliff ? one that ensures strong support for economy-building science and technology enterprise.

Economic growth in the industrialized world since World War II has been driven by innovation and technological progress, the letter to Congressional leaders and President Obama says. Besides spawning the Global Positioning System, the laser, and the Internet, technology has enabled countless medical advances that have helped save the lives of millions of heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients, among others. Almost every national priority — from health and defense, to agriculture and conservation — relies on science and engineering, the letter notes.

Federal R&D investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts would be made if sequestration goes into effect, the letter observes: “Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness.”

The letter warns that several countries in Asia and Europe have increased their research intensities substantially and at a far faster pace than the United States, threatening the nation’s long-term leadership position in science, technology and innovation. “Allowing blunt cuts to R&D to go forward will only accelerate these trends,” the letter says.

Much is at stake, noted SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “Our nation's leaders are wrestling with our dire financial problems and we applaud their efforts. While we recognize the constraints, it would be utterly foolish to damage the best hope for economic health: our science and technology capability.”

Robert Lieberman, chair of the SPIE committee on Engineering Science and Technology Policy, emphasized the importance of federal funding for STEM education and R&D on competitiveness in technologies enabled by optics and photonics.

He cited findings of the recent National Academies report “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation,” on “the crucial role education plays in ensuring a vibrant future,” and the trend of domestic workforce shrinkage in STEM fields.

“Today, the United States has many outstanding universities that educate students from around the world in the classroom and in research laboratories,” the report notes. However, the number of U.S. nationals in graduate programs at top optics schools is as low as 40 percent. “If the United States continues to shrink its STEM workforce and market share in photonics, innovations in research will bolster the economy and the defense technology of countries poised to take advantage of those advances.”

Sequestration would require up to $12 billion in R&D funding cuts annually across defense and nondefense programs over the next decade, the letter says. Among the impacts:

  •     DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency) would lose over $1 billion for cutting-edge innovation.
  •     The NIH (National Institutes of Health) would lose $11.3 billion for research on medical challenges including those related to cancer, obesity, aging, and emerging diseases.
  •     The Department of Energy would lose $4.6 billion through 2017 for next-generation energy research and nonproliferation R&D.
  •     The National Science Foundation would lose $2.1 billion over five years for research across a broad spectrum of disciplines, most of which is cutting-edge research conducted at universities throughout the nation.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.7 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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