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R&D funding hit hard by govt. shutdown

Kate O'Connell

The federal government shutdown has impacted funding for a range of Research and Development (R&D) sectors. And, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington DC says the interruption will compromises the innovative capacity of the US economy.

The shutdown is in its early stages, but according to the ITIF’s Stephen Ezell, even if the interruption only lasts for a short time, the damage has already been done.

Ezell says the extent of the damage will depend on whether the shutdown lasts for three days or three weeks, like it did 17 years ago.

“Even if this shutdown just lasts another 24 hours, what it really represents is just one more instance in a long string of cases just showing really the failure of our federal government to invest consistently and predictably in scientific research.”

Ezell says the lack of consistent funding is also resulting in the loss of bright young researchers who are moving to the private sector or overseas companies.

“What you’re seeing now at the national laboratories, for example, at many of these agencies, is researchers and scientific investigators just saying, ‘we’ve had enough.’ And they’re leaving government service, they’re going to academia, they’re going to the private sector. And so this really is going to have long term impacts.”

Ezell says the shutdown has also tarnished the country’s investment reputation with international companies.

He says global investors will be unlikely to consider countries that can’t guarantee a stable investment space for research and development expansions.

“They look at countries and ask, ‘ok, what do you have for us in terms of competitive tax code and pools of skilled talent, and stable support for scientific research and development?’ And the more countries and enterprises look at the United States and just see this isn’t an environment where you can do business on a principal basis. That’s going to have impacts on the capacity of our innovation economy,” Ezell says.

He says the R&D sector is a soft target for funding cuts, but investments are needed now to enable firms, industries, and the national economy to compete.  

“This is endemic to both the private and the public sector, that R&D is something that you cut when times are tight. And that’s very unfortunate because the reality is that you can’t eat your seed corn and it’s investments now that lay the ability for firms, and industries, and economies to compete in the future. So while it seems that we can cut now at little short term cost, that’s really not the case and it will end up doing sustained and lasting damage to our economy.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail
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