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For two years, science agencies have been forced by continuing resolutions to wear a budget straitjacket that prohibited them from starting new projects or programs and terminating outdated ones. Congress should give program administrators the flexibility they need to keep America’s research enterprise humming at the competitive edge.
Under the stress of budgetary belt-tightening, research scientists and agency managers have also been forced to spend more time and effort on proposal writing and processing and less on the conduct and outcomes of research. Although transparency and accountability are essential elements of good government, Congress should take steps to refocus federal science programs on the science they support by reducing administrative burdens that are threatening to choke the enterprise.
Finally, Congress should take steps to recognize the international nature of research by requiring federal agencies to develop policies and procedures that build on the success of projects such as the Large Hadron Collider collaboration at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, that led to the blockbuster Higgs boson discovery; and by creating a new visa category that will allow scientific collaborators to travel freely between their home countries and the United States during the many years that 21st century projects often require.
Could Congress enact such legislation? Are you kidding me?! Of course!
Michael S. Lubell is the Mark W. Zemansky professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.