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Industry, Meet Sequestration

Could the US business community play a role in supporting basic research while the sequestration's spending cuts to federal science budgets are still in effect, asked a group of tech policy watchers in a teleconference yesterday.

In a Scientific American blog post, Larry Greenemeier reports that participants in the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies conference call were asking what role business could play in making up the funding shortfall that has and will continue to hit the academic research communities as long as the sequester is in effect; it is set to last through 2021.

The big question here is how to make up for cuts in the kinds of early stage research that benefits industry in the long-term, but which companies do not want or cannot afford to pursue, Greenemeier says.

C-PET President Nigel Cameron said in the call that Apple, which ended its most recent earnings period holding $145 billion in cash, “is sitting on more money than the federal government spends on all of its discretionary R&D combined.”

It is conceivable that the business community could cover some of the gap in early stage R&D that the sequester has created, Greenemeier writes.

How companies would explain such expenses to their shareholders, however, may be another matter. But if they do not choose to spend cash on funding basic research, businesses may want to burn some of their extra dough lobbying Congress hard to increase the government's flexibility under the sequester, allowing agencies to better allocate their decreased resources, Nagy Hanna, a C-PET senior fellow said during the call.

The aim of such a lobbying effort would be to impress upon policymakers how important basic R&D is for the greater US economy, as well as university systems.