As congressional budget negotiators grind the “sausage” of federal funding appropriations, including for the National Science Foundation and the Census Bureau, some want to leave out key ingredients. They’re targeting science foundation research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences, and the Census Bureau for big cuts.
Enacting those cuts would be a mistake. The research the science foundation funds is important to understanding and evaluating economic and social policy for the bistate region and the country. Census Bureau data are indispensable for drawing political districts, allocating resources to those who need them, making informed policy decisions and assessing the results.
Through National Science Foundation-funded research, economists developed auction theory, which enabled the Federal Communications Commission to raise a record $44.9 billion by auctioning the wireless spectrum in January. As carriers put the airwaves to use, it will generate billions more for the economy and tens of thousands of jobs.
Science foundation-funded research also produced economic matching theory that helps doctors find compatible kidneys for transplant patients. There were 514 kidney transplants in Kansas and Missouri last year. They saved nearly 17 percent more lives than kidney transplants did a decade ago.
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My colleagues Charles Epp, Steven Maynard-Moody and Don Haider-Markel received science foundation funds to conduct research showing that police in the Kansas City region were significantly more likely to pull over and interrogate blacks for minor infractions than whites. Their work helped explain the strained racial climate in our region and our nation. My colleague Dietrich Earnhart led a science foundation-supported study of farmers' decisions regarding biofuel crops and how they’re adapting to climate change.
Together with collaborators Joshua Rosenbloom, Ted Juhl and Joseph Heppert, I’m researching how National Science Foundation funding supports economic growth through knowledge creation, patenting, and product development.It’s especially important to our local economy, bringing good jobs to the region and more than $13 million to Kansas research institutions.
National Science Foundation funding enabled local universities including University of Kansas, University of Missouri-Columbia and University of Missouri-Kansas City to create the Kansas City Data Research Center, a census data network providing researchers secure access to federal statistical data that helps them analyze the economy and public policy issues. One of only 20 in the country, it will be the first to open in the Great Plains region, in early 2016.
But data quality and access are significantly threatened by proposed Census Bureau cuts. While its overall budget would get a paltry increase, it’s so small it could undermine accuracy of key programs like the 2020 census and the 2017 economic census.
Why does Congress propose to sacrifice these considerable economic benefits to budget cutters? National Science Foundation research and Census Bureau data are key ingredients in our regional and national prosperity and health. Cutting them is a recipe for some serious indigestion.
Donna K. Ginther is a professor in the Department of Economics and director of the Center for Science, Technology & Economic Policy at the University of Kansas.