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Science and Statistical Agencies Fare Well in 2011 Budget Request

1 April 2010 No Comment

ASA Members Should Urge Congress to Support Requests

This column is written to inform ASA members about what the ASA is doing to promote the inclusion of statistics in policymaking and the funding of statistics research. To suggest science policy topics for the ASA to address, contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson at pierson@amstat.org.

Contributing Editor

Pierson-color copySteve Pierson earned his PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota. He spent eight years in the Physics Department of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and later became head of government relations at the American Physical Society before joining the ASA as director of science policy.

Such is how Science’s veteran science policy reporter Jeffrey Mervis started his blog on the day of the fiscal year 2011 budget request from the Obama administration. The seemingly difficult-to-impress Mervis also exulted the news in his title, “Science Triumphs in Obama’s 2011 Budget Request.” At the top of the president’s list were the requested increases for the budgets of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. As reported in Keith Crank’s March column in Amstat News, NSF would see an 8% increase to $7.4 billion, and NIH would see a $1 billion (3%) increase to $32.1 billion, if the president’s levels for these two agencies are enacted.

Contacting Your Elected Officials

    Note that you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to make this contact; federal employees, however, should contact their agency’s ethics officers before proceeding.
  • Go to the webpage of the elected official. Learn who your senators are and find a link to their web sites. To determine your representative and find his/her webpage, click here.
  • Click on the link for contacting this person. This typically turns up a web form where you fill in your contact information.
  • For the message box, the basic message for supporting NSF and NIH should be the following. (For any of the statistical agencies, please contact me at pierson@amstat.org for help with the message so that I can learn more about ASA membership interests.)
  • As a constituent and statistician, I write to ask you to urge the Appropriations Committee leadership to fund the National Institutes of Health at least at the president’s request level, $32.1 billion, for FY11 and to fully fund the National Science Foundation at the president’s request of $7.4 billion. The NIH request approximately covers the costs of inflation and will help make the most of the generous investments Congress provided for NIH in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. I would also ask that funding be used to bolster the training programs for biostatisticians, who are in high demand in industry, academia, and government.
  • NSF, the largest funder of academic research for nonbiomedical fields, has been forced to turn away many proposals highly rated in the merit-review process. Indeed, its proposal funding rate has fallen to one in four proposals, down from one in three a decade ago. The administration’s request keeps NSF on track to increase the proposal funding rate of the highly rated proposals in order to keep basic research a fundamental driver of U.S. economic growth.
    Individualizing and buttressing this message is encouraged but not required. It’s most important that Congress hear from you.
    Please complete this process three times: once for each of your two senators and once for your representative.
    Contact me for help with any of these steps, or to share any responses, at pierson@amstat.org; (703) 302-1841.

Given the political attention on the country’s budget deficits, these increases are remarkable, reflecting the administration’s belief in basic research being fundamental to spurring long-term economic growth. Their remarkableness also makes them susceptible, so ASA members should communicate their support for these numbers to Congress.

Many federal statistical agencies also stand out in the FY11 request, reflecting the administration’s emphasis on data-driven decisionmaking. The National Center for Health Statistics, with a requested 17% increase to $162 million, the Energy Information Administration (16% to $129 million), and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (16% to $109 million) have the largest requested increases. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (6% to $646 million), the Economic Research Service (6% to $87 million), and the National Center for Education Statistics (5% to $279 million) also see requested increases larger than inflation.

With the completion of decennial census data collection this year, the FY11 budget request for the U.S. Census Bureau, $1.3 billion, is much smaller than its FY10 budget of $7.4 billion but includes funding to prepare for the 2012 Economic Census, to increase the American Community Survey (ACS) sample size to 3.5 million households annually, and to create supplementary measures of poverty. (More information on the statistical agency request can be found in Chapter 18 of the FY11 Analytical Perspectives).

The president’s request is, of course, only the opening salvo in the budget deliberations. Each chamber of Congress must produce and approve its own version of the budget. The House and Senate must reconcile their versions and then each approve the joint version before sending it to the president for his signature.

To realize their requested increases, these agencies must survive many challenges. Any budget item with a large proposed increase is targeted by those seeking to increase other budgets or by those simply looking to trim the overall budget. Further, while budget increases may reflect an administration’s priority (or that of the House or Senate), one needs to keep in mind the increase may be funded by unrealistic cuts elsewhere. For example, administrations regularly omit congressionally earmarked funds from an agency’s baseline, knowing full well Congress will earmark funds again and will have to find the funds to do so.

Given the many pitfalls that could beset any of the above budgets through the budget process, ASA members should contact their U.S. senators and U.S. representative, urging them to support the president’s numbers. Such communications, coupled with efforts from other professional societies and stakeholders, are necessary to keep science and statistical agencies a priority in this difficult fiscal environment.

ASA Science Policy Actions

ASA signs onto letters in support of fiscal year 2011 Budgets for U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

ASA cosponsors briefing on Hill by National Institute of General Medical Sciences Director Jeremy Berg

ASA President sends letter with ASA’s review of the Common Core K–12 Standards

ASA signs onto letter to President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on STEM education principles.

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