Friday, January 21, 2011

Funding?

It was interesting to read the Republican spending cut plans.

They want to cut the funding for a subsidy to the IPCC,  cut the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, DOE Applied Research, cut the federal travel budget in half, The energy star program, and some farm subsidies, and cuts to commercial space travel.

It will be interesting to see what all this really means and where it all ends up. Having worked in the general vicinity of DOE I can say that as an outsider I was impressed with the way that the government partnered with industry to bring research into the applied arena.

Lets remember that high-risk high-reward research has a place and purpose. The government shoulders the high risk, sometimes because learning needs to be done to make advances possible. The scientists or engineers however have no specific interest though in building products to market. And rightfully they are usually not allowed to profit from them as patents and such remain the property of the organization not the individual. This includes intellectual property.  There is a reason industry doesn't engage in this practice and that is the high risk of doing research without a grand plan, without an infinite supply of money and time and resources. Industry can do R and D but it usually has a focus and leverages off someone else's adavances ...typically the government.

A good example is SpaceX as part of the NASA COTS program. They are leveraging NASA assets (launch facilities, engine testing facilities, personnel) and NASA knowledge (materials) and have said quite freely and openly that without NASA they would not have been able to accomplish so much in so little time. Sounds like a sound partnership and a sound investment to me.  Even Elon Musk said something like: I don't do this because there is a lot of profit in sending rockets into space. He even told his initial investors he wasn't in it for the profit. He was passionate about space, passionate about building commercial spaceflight capabilities. The next phase of SpaceX will be really exciting as they modify their tested rocket to hold humans to travel to the space station.

I can't tell what the Ag stuff is about or how hard that hurt the family farmer in times like these. They are already trying to cope with deciding whether to grow corn/soy or switch to biofuel crops like switchgrass. Certainly most farmers do not profit that frequently since weather and water are largely out of their control ... farming requires a delicate balance of a good long, wet growing season. Floods hurt, rain at planting time delays, rain at harvest delays, and wilder weather like cold and freezes damages the crops. Farming is high risk-low reward.

I can't quantify the Arts or Humanities .. but it will have an impact.

I know I will see the results of federal travel cut in half since I work in close proximity to federal folks. It will even serve to hurt part of the planned activities for my job. How badly I do not know. But it will have repercussions and I can only hope we have the tools to minimize them.

Be wary of across the board cuts and pay attention to what is not cut, too. Clearly the government needs to tighten the belt but it needs to do so carefully and thoughtfully. Some programs dont have quantifiable value but that doesn't make them candidates. Government still has a responsibility to represent its citizens and those numbers continue to grow. We cant have small government because our populous is getting larger and larger (taxation without representation rings a bell). We also know it can't do everything.  We must choose wisely on non-partisan reasons...