BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Commending recent guidance by the White House that mission-related travel and conferences play an "important role" in government operations, leaders of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are continuing to urge Congress and the President to take action to ensure funding for such travel, and to protect funding for science and technology R&D.
The message parallels recent comments by departing chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors Alan Krueger and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Each said in separate remarks that sequestration-mandated federal budget cuts are threatening progress in scientific research as well as the technology R&D that is necessary for economic vitality.
At the Wall Street Journal CFO Network conference on Monday, Krueger said that the across-the-board cuts have not only restrained short-term economic growth but also threaten the long-term investment of federally funded research and development that can eventually lead to new technologies that drive the economy.
Clinton told the audience at a benefit for Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy last Thursday that deep federal spending cuts are dangerously hindering science through loss of research jobs and activity, the Washington Post reported. She urged "citizen action" to raise awareness about the consequences.
A memo issued last year by the White House Office of Management and Budget mandated reductions in travel spending by 30%. In updated guidelines published last month (PDF 61 KB), the OMB acknowledged that while it is important to eliminate wasteful government spending, bringing federal employees together, particularly at scientific conferences, can be the most efficient and cost-effective means to advance the mission and programmatic goals of governmental agencies.
"Scientific discovery and commercialization are key components of economic growth," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "We applaud the OMB's new guidelines and also recognize the need for financial responsibility in government travel spending. But the guidelines need to be supported by funding. Without that, we are encouraging the best and the brightest to work in our government labs, and then tying their hands by restricting their access to the latest research findings and trends, state-of-the-art training and relevant contacts -- the necessary catalysts for invention and progress."
The taxpayer's full return on investment in R&D is dependent on the interchange among government, industry and academia, Arthurs said, "for the sharing of ideas to stimulate new thinking and to ensure that we're building on similar work rather than duplicating what is being done in another lab."
Arthurs stressed that the risks of falling behind in technology development include erosion of homeland- and cyber-security and warfighter-safety capabilities, and losing a leadership edge in global economic competitiveness.
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 235,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012.
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