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Making the case to close the innovation deficit

The cycle of sequestration does not end with federal agency cuts impacting Emory and other institutions doing work that is dependent on strong federal funding.  Soon, we will face another round of funding cuts due to state agency reductions. Our nation's long-term investment goals are in serious jeopardy.

And while the nation's budget issues are real and must be addressed, the blunt force of sequestration is like using a chain saw instead of a scalpel to perform surgery. The general public has not felt the impact yet, but when the Georgia Department of Transportation cannot provide the funds to pave our country lanes or repair our bridges, it will hit home. In the meantime, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding 700 fewer grants this year, which means 700 competitive opportunities lost to our researchers.

NIH Director Francis Collins, speaking recently at Emory, said this loss keeps him up at night. He asked: Which lost grant might have led to the cure for cancer, Alzheimer's or autism? And which researcher, who would have been a future National Medal of Science award winner, will have switched fields because of the difficulty in securing that first grant that launched a promising career?

Federal support for research and development (R&D) has declined by 10 percent in real dollars since FY10.  Georgia ranks in the top 20 of states that will feel the greatest impact of this reduction, with over $907 million worth of federal R&D cuts expected in the state. Therefore, Georgia has much at risk.

On July 10, Emory President James Wagner joined the leaders of five other Georgia research universities, as well as state industry leaders, in hosting a Georgia delegation dinner on Capitol Hill. The Georgia Research Alliance dinner was an opportunity to highlight our state's outstanding research enterprise, and the role that our universities play in the state's economic development initiative. As part of Emory's ongoing advocacy efforts in support of research, the event was deemed a success by its record attendance—12 of 15 members participated—and the constructive dialogue that it facilitated—the first interaction of its kind among the Georgia delegation in several years.

Continuing the drumbeat for the federal investment in research and education, President Wagner, as well as the presidents of UGA and Georgia Tech, joined 162 other university leaders in an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress. The letter discusses the growing concern that cuts being made today will put our country behind in the years to come, and calls attention to the innovation deficit, the difference between what the nation is investing and what it should be investing in research and higher education. The open letter appeared as a two-page advertisement in the Washington newspaper Politico on July 31.

As this letter circulates on Capitol Hill, we continue to emphasize that federally funded research is the fuel that propels much of the innovation that comes out of America's research universities, which in turn attracts businesses and talent to our nation. However, as the United States cuts research budgets, countries like South Korea, Taiwan, China, Germany and Finland have greatly increased their research investment as a percentage of GDP.  These investments will grow industries and institutions abroad, steering the best minds and businesses to other countries.

Closing the innovation deficit — the widening gap between needed and actual investments in research and education — must be a national security imperative. 

Editor's Note

This column from Emory's Office of Governmental and Community Affairs is designed to provide timely information on legislative issues related to higher education and academic and medical research.

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