In summary

California’s congressional delegation can advocate for increased funding that will drive the science and innovation ecosystem throughout our state.

By Robert Conn, Special to CalMatters

Robert Conn is a distinguished policy fellow at the School for Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. He is the retired president and CEO of The Kavli Foundation in Los Angeles, and a member of the Science and Technology Action Committee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the important role science plays in addressing any public health crisis. It has also reinforced that basic research and scientific discovery require purposeful, proactive funding – and the government is part of that equation.

But such funding is not just about addressing a global health crisis. Science and innovation also drive development of the jobs of tomorrow, critical to ensuring we can compete on a global scale. President Joe Biden drove these points home during his recent State of the Union address, and support for science has been a bipartisan priority. 

Congress now has an opportunity to make that happen by adopting bipartisan innovation legislation and increasing science funding in fiscal year 2023 spending legislation. Doing so would benefit not just our nation, but also California’s knowledge economy.

The largest share of research performed at California’s universities is funded by the federal government. California is also top ranked among national leaders in many metrics of science and innovation, including business research and development, academic lab space, inventions and patenting, science and engineering graduate students – and even federal and state R&D expenditures.

California’s contributions to the digital economy are well known, as are our world-leading science powerhouses such as Caltech, Stanford and the 10 University of California campuses, and major labs such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, and the Scripps Research Institute. 

Our manufacturing and agriculture sectors also contribute nearly $400 billion to the state economy every year, per U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data, with major sectors including computers and electronics, aerospace and pharmaceuticals. These sectors directly benefit from federal investments in materials research, crop science, chemistry and other areas.

Last summer, federal policymakers made progress on annual spending bills, where the bulk of federal science investments are funded, but that effort stalled amid other priorities and political battles. The recently passed appropriations package is not at the level of investment needed to meet either Biden’s vision or that of the bipartisan legislators who crafted the bills.

In addition, the U.S. House and Senate are gearing up to merge competing innovation bills passed by each chamber in a rare bipartisan feat, and the next spending cycle is just kicking off. Altogether, this bipartisan legislative moment presents an opportunity to increase funding that will drive the science and innovation ecosystem throughout our state, and the nation overall. Perhaps this effort can help heal some of our divisions too.

This is where the California delegation comes in. Our state’s congressional delegation includes appropriators and federal legislators like Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein and Reps. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona; Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from San Bernardino; Mike Garcia, a Republican from Santa Clarita;  and Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona. Each is in a position to advocate for these funding increases. 

They can make the case that these bipartisan efforts are worth the investment – not just for our nation, but also for our current and emerging scientists and innovators throughout the state who could use the boost to discover the next breakthrough in science that could save lives. We need the scientific workforce of the future.

Congress could also increase funding for the Space Grant and Sea Grant college programs. Working with hundreds of scientists at dozens of California universities and community colleges, these federal programs provide local opportunities for space and oceanic research, industrial partnerships and educational opportunities for California students.

If we let this moment slip away, a once-in-a-generation opportunity will be lost, leaving important investments on the table. Congress should pass the bipartisan innovation legislation and ensure that we increase spending in the next fiscal cycle. You never know when the next pandemic or major crisis might hit. We need to be prepared. 

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