Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, started the “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments” hearing saying that funding innovative research is of huge importance to the U.S. Supporting this statement, Mikulski pointed out that 138 pieces of written testimony, including one from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, were submitted prior to the hearing, demonstrating the support across the nation of investing in innovation.
The hearing featured five witnesses representing federal agencies: John P. Holdren, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy; Ernest Moniz, Secretary, Department of Energy; Francis S. Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health; France A. Córdova, Director, National Science Foundation and Arati Prabhakar, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The opening remarks by each witness pointed out the advances made by science and engineering discoveries and how the current state of federal funding has slowed that progress. The examples given ranged from a robotic hand that Moniz brought to the hearing to the story of Kayla Martinez, a 10 year old girl that has survived with neonatal onset multisystem inflammatory disease due to research conducted at the National Institutes of Health. Cordova asked the committee to consider what if the National Science Foundation had not supported fundamental scientific research and we did not have smart phones, touch screen technology, the internet, municipal water systems, advanced weather forecasting and many more preconditions of modern life.
This was followed by more than an hour of questioning from the senators. Several comments reiterated ASBMB’s position on increasing the federal investment for research, keeping foreign-born science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree earners in the U.S., increasing incentives for the next generation of scientists and having a predictable and sustainable funding environment for scientists. Collins said that the worst thing for any scientist is a feed-famine cycle of funding and that stable and predictable support is necessary to take the risks that lead to groundbreaking discoveries. Without this, young scientists are being turned away from the profession, which may be a significant loss as most Nobel Prize discoveries are made during the early stages of a scientist’s career.
Overall, the lagging federal investment in research is creating an innovation deficit that could have severe consequences. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, questioned what the future held for scientific discovery, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, worried about the costs of treating Alzheimer’s disease, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, noted that a sound federal investment results in more products developed in the U.S. and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Connecticut, stated that current programs that support innovation needed to be replicated.
Mikulski said, “We want our scientists to win the Nobel Prizes and we want our businesses to win the markets.”That discovery needs to be supported. The next step is how to best foster innovation with increased funding and a structuring of the U.S.’s priorities to drive breakthroughs in new technologies. To perpetuate this positive momentum, scientists need to make their voices heard. Join the ASBMB in its advocacy efforts and follow the Policy Blotter for updates!