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‘Science  is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before’-President Obama, National  Academy of Sciences, April 27, 2009

For those interested in technology-led and innovation-led economic development, recent steps at the federal level to bring some new thinking and programs aligned to the 21st century economy are running into the reality of the federal budget deficit.

As reported by the State Science and Technology Institute the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform chairs report has recommended some drastic changes in federal economic development programs.

Unfortunately the press of deficit reduction has moved into policy discussions. Merging the SBA into the Department of Commerce may well be a good idea operationally, but that idea needs to stand on its own and shouldn’t be premised on reducing the deficit. Similarly, the EDA’s recent reforms to link its programs to commercialization, job creation, and an innovation economy should be applauded, and not criticized as straying from ‘its core mission of supporting depressed areas.’

The budgets of these agencies are very small and will have little effect on the overall deficit. Eliminating programs to support U.S, advanced manufacturing, for example, come right at the time when other nations are pouring strategic funds into programs to support their manufacturing sectors. Making cuts in science budgets will only hurt long term prosperity of the US.

Note that these proposals are the views of the chairs of the Commission only. Whether these changes will be adopted by the full National Commission when it issues its report in December, or by the new Congress, are two very big questions. But clearly we need to become engaged and active. All programs will have to share in the burden, but all analysts agree that the big deficit reduction plays are in Social Security, Medicare and the budgets of larger agencies. These commercialization and innovation programs and the accompanying science budgets need our support.

Brian Darmody

Immediate Past President, Association of University Research Parks

Associate VP for Research and Economic Development, University of Maryland

(The views expressed here are solely his own)