Commentary: Failure to fund research is a failure to support Texas

Congress recently passed another fractious short-term measure to avert a government shutdown. This piecemeal approach to federal spending is not good for our local Texas economy, nor is it a viable solution for the entire nation. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is in a position to set things right.

A long-term deal is needed to reduce constraints impacting basic research funding under the Budget Control Act, which mandates lower spending levels. As the president of a local technology company, I can attest that our work requires the support of a nationally funded scientific infrastructure. Our 35 scientists and engineers are developing and manufacturing dozens of new technologies, including a portable instrument to keep troops safe by rapidly testing drinking water and a new sensor that dramatically improves imaging capabilities for military aircraft. We are also developing next-generation night vision goggle systems.

Our success would not be possible without funding from the National Science Foundation. The foundation – the premier agency for funding basic science research – addresses national challenges in areas such as energy, health care, education and national security through support for projects across all fields of science, from physical to biological to social.

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When our nation wants to field technology that is generations ahead of the capabilities of our competitors, we cannot rely on off-the-shelf hardware. We must invent new hardware. These technologies are too new to be acquired as line items on a government purchase order; they require years of research, development and testing. Before these new technologies are even possible, they require a foundation of support, including robust science funding.

Many of our nation’s leaders understand these requirements. For instance, I agree with Cornyn’s assessment that “our ability to innovate is crucial to the success of our economy and competitiveness with other countries. Investing in science and technology, and increasing our ability to innovate, is an important part of keeping the economy in Texas and America strong.”

Unfortunately, Congress is not approaching innovation in a way that supports the necessary scientific infrastructure. Lawmakers’ recent passage of a short-term measure to keep the government from shutting down — instead of finding a long-term deal to release the country from the detrimental Budget Control Act — jeopardizes future funding for scientific advancement.

Ultimately, the approach that Congress takes to federal investment in research and innovation impacts our company and the Texas economy. Our company’s efforts to support our nation are enabled by foundational research. We rely on a broad workforce that is trained in the STEM pipeline. We rely on National Science Foundation-supported Texas Nanofabrication Facility at the University of Texas. We relied on the foundation’s funding in 2006 to develop technology that is now being sold by our company. And we use research funding to hire and support interns who gain valuable experience to prepare them for a highly technical global economy.

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To keep local companies and families thriving, it is crucial that Congress strikes a deal that increases funding for science. Adjusted for inflation, government nondefense research and development in the United States has steadily decreased since 2004. This trend may have already adversely impacted the U.S. economy. For every 1-percent decrease in research and development, the nation’s gross domestic product decreases by $23 billion, according to a 2012 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Failure to fund research is a failure to support Texas.

As an influential leader, Cornyn can help put the country on a reliable funding path, starting with loosening constraints in the Budget Control Act, which limits crucial investments in research. He should seize this moment and work with his colleagues to strengthen jobs and prosperity by ensuring funding for scientific initiatives that boost America’s global competitiveness.

Mayo is the president of Nanohmics, a science and engineering company in Austin.

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