When it comes to federal research funding, it’s easy to overlook the impact it has on our everyday lives. We tend to think of scientific research as an abstract concept where a scientist spends years in a lab working on their invention that never sees the light of day; but the reality is much more complex. Scientific research has a tremendous impact on our economy, our health and our national security, and most of the time we don’t even realize how federal research improves our own quality of life.
If you’ve ever used Google’s search engine or own an iPhone, you have benefitted from federally funded research projects. Both the algorithm behind Google’s search engine and the glass screen on your iPhone were first developed using federal research dollars. The private sector was able to turn those developments into unimaginably successful products, but they wouldn’t have been possible without federal investment.
In Colorado, scientific research is a major economic driver. More than two dozen federal labs contribute $2.6 billion annually to the state’s economy and employ more than 17,000 Coloradans. But scientific research is much more than just an economic driver. When we invest in federal research and development, we’re investing in our country, our people and our ideas.
One of my goals since being elected to the United States Senate has been to make sure science does not become a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans both have bold ideas that cannot afford to get bogged down in politics. I joined with Democrat Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) to spearhead the effort to author the first major update to federal research and technology policy to originate in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in almost a decade: the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. After nearly two years of bipartisan work on this legislation, President Obama signed it into law in January 2017.
Funding for research and development remains a top priority for me. Recently, I called for a 4 percent (nearly $340 million) increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I’ve worked with my colleagues to ensure the Department of Energy receives adequate funding so we can continue to meet our national security needs and maintain the United States’ position as a global leader in science and technology. I’ve supported increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, and I have opposed calls to reduce funding for these programs that benefit Colorado and our country. It means these men and women working on solutions that can cure diseases, combat world hunger, and help our troops get the resources they need.
We must always keep in mind fiscal responsibility but also recognize the economic benefits scientific research creates. For every one dollar into NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) the federal government invests, for example, the MEP program generates an average of $17 in new sales growth. And for every $1 the Department of Energy invests in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it attracts a further $5 in private investment. These investments are important for Colorado and the nation.
This country has a history of lifting the pragmatists and the problem solvers. We’re builders, dreamers and innovators with diverse backgrounds but a unique zeal to get things done. We don’t know what the next great scientific breakthrough is going to be. But a commitment to research is a commitment to the idea that we still believe there are breakthroughs to be had and it’s an embrace of the spirit of America that encourages us to continue to dream big.