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July 9th, 2010

Friday federal funding facts: Life in the slow lane

Published on July 9th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

For a change, I am going to start my macro-level observations by looking at the National Science Foundation. As indicated in the chart above the agency has only been able to spend about $382 million – or less than 14% – of its Recovery Act money. No particular insights on my part, other than there must not be much that the NSF particularly feels proud about in regard to doing its part to help the science community weather the economic storms: The last update NSF provides on their official Recovery Act web page is dated Oct. 6, 2009! (Understand –  I am referring to NSF’s institutional pride, not that of individuals. I personally know many people in the NSF who are trying to figure out how to get this money spent.)

Now, on to the DOE.

Just a reminder to Secretary Steven Chu: To fulfill your promise*, your staff now has less than six months to cut $16 billion in checks. That works out to about $2.66 billion a month or $91 million dollars per day. If it weren’t for the fact that all of this money has already been promised, I would seriously suggest the DOE write a check for $100 million to the top 160 universities in the nation and ask them to send in a five-page report in a year.

Anyway, the DOE’s chart, sad to say, speaks for itself:

* In Feb. 2009 Secretary Chu announced that 70 percent of Recovery act “investments” will be disbursed by the end of 2010.


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2 Responses to Friday federal funding facts: Life in the slow lane

  1. Peter Wray says:

    “Unwise spending decisions” aren’t really the big concern (and never really been a big problem. Some stupid stuff has slipped through, historically, but really only a tiny amount. In regard to Recovery Act money, there aren’t mixed goals. The goal is to, well, quickly stimulate the economy. Projects out of federal labs may be a little more unique than university projects, but there many many (if not nearly all) academic folks who have had a majority of their good proposals turned down, and many of these proposals are sitting on a shelf. Pull ’em down. Try ’em out. Likewise, there always have been a lot of equipment proposals and wish lists floating around that everyone knew would never get fully authorized. Now is the time to do it. The equipment and testing community has gotten hammered over the last 4 years. Give them a break and, you know, spend the money quickly. It may not be pretty, it may rough up the corners of “tradition, ” but that’s how the recovery is suppose to work. It’s suppose to be a shot in the arm. It may hurt a little at first and leave a small bruise, but its better than the alternative.

  2. James says:

    This post makes me a little queasy. I think that this article is a great example of how mixed goals can override and destroy each other. Here we have the federal government trying to stimulate the economy through pumping money through existing programs, and on the other you have science organizations that are trying to take a structured, strategic approach to their spending and goals. In my experience (I’m currently working for a national lab under the DOE), these type of programs require a steady, multi-year flow of money to accomplish a goal instead of a single, really big check. There are a lot of things that simply cannot (or should not) be rushed. The scientists don’t get the stability they require, and the government doesn’t get the spending it wants. Such a large influx of money could only result in unwise spending decisions.

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