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Editor's Page

February 15, 2010
Volume 88, Number 7
p. 3

Funding R&D

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This week’s cover story is an in-depth examination of President Barack Obama’s proposed 2011 R&D budget. This issue also contains C&EN’s annual projection of chemical industry capital and R&D spending for the year ahead. In the case of both the federal government and the chemical industry, future-oriented spending is in pretty good shape.

First, though, allow me a digression. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, it has been snowing in Washington, D.C., where the American Chemical Society has its headquarters and C&EN is published. We had a bit of a blizzard over the weekend that has more or less paralyzed the region; the federal government, ACS, and many other employers were closed on Monday and Tuesday of the week of Feb. 8.

As I write this on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the sky outside our offices at 16th and M Streets, N.W., is leaden. More snow is forecast to begin falling around noon, and 10 to 20 more inches are expected by the end of the day tomorrow. It’s likely that the upcoming storm will make this the snowiest winter in Washington since records have been kept. For those of you who live in New England, the upper Midwest, or Canada and who are tempted to reply, “Stop whining,” I can only state honestly that we don’t handle this much snow very well.

Getting out this issue of C&EN is proving to be a challenge. C&EN’s staff is improvising. Many people are working from home—computers and the Internet really are wonders—and a few have managed to trudge into the office through truly miserable commuting conditions. To all of C&EN’s outstanding staff, I offer a heartfelt thank you for your dedication.

About the federal R&D budget: Within the Obama Administration’s $3.8 trillion budget request for fiscal 2011 is $147.7 billion for R&D, up 0.2% from 2010 (see page 16). However, as the Government & Policy Department staff write, “The essentially flat R&D budget is consistent with an overall federal spending freeze on discretionary spending. But a closer look shows that nondefense R&D did much better than the overall trend—up 5.9%, or $3.7 billion, for a total 2011 budget of $66.0 billion.”

The budget increases for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology keep them on track to double their budgets in 10 years, a process now expected to be complete by 2017. NSF is a big winner in the proposed budget, receiving an 8% increase, for a total of $7.4 billion. “The essence of NSF’s 2011 budget request is the reaffirmation of the agency’s roots as the nation’s wellspring of scientific innovation,” NSF Director Arden L. Bement Jr. said at a press briefing.

Within NSF’s Mathematical & Physical Sciences Directorate, the Chemistry Division is slated to see the biggest percentage gain, a 5.9% boost that will bring the division’s budget to $248 million. The Materials Research Division will see a 5.5% increase to $319 million.

DOE’s Office of Science is supposed to receive a 4.4% increase to $5.1 billion in 2011. What’s important is the focus of the spending: Solar energy R&D sees a 22% increase to $302 million; wind R&D jumps 53% to $122 million; geothermal, by 25% to $55 million; and nuclear, by 39% to a total of $495 million. These are the clean energies that must power the U.S. in the coming century.

The chemical industry seems fairly optimistic about the future, too, reports Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch. “Fifteen U.S.-based firms say they will ratchet up spending on new plants and equipment by 9.4% this year to a combined $8.3 billion,” he writes (see page 30). “The improvement marks a turnaround from last year when the group cut capital expenditures by 27.5% to $7.6 billion, ending a string of double-digit increases that began in 2005.” Seven firms plan a 2.1% increase in their research budgets to a combined $5.4 billion, he reports.

Future-oriented spending is a measure of a society’s or an industry’s conception of itself. These projected R&D and capital budgets indicate that the chemistry enterprise, specifically, and U.S. science and technology, in general, are moving in the right direction.

Now it would be nice if it would just stop snowing.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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