Read the original column here in The Oregonian.
It is time to reinvest in innovation and higher education. The financial ropes of sequestration that constrained federal funding for research and education have bound our economy long enough. Congress must act now to end the severe cuts that threaten Oregonians' ability to innovate, access higher education and prosper.
House and Senate budget leaders will soon be working to craft a new federal budget agreement for fiscal year 2014. These leaders should make eliminating sequestration their first priority. This includes restoring federal funding to higher education for important research initiatives. Allowing these severe reductions to continue would have a profound negative impact on the programs and opportunities that matter greatly to our students and our universities.
More than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II is a result of technological innovation—much of this resulting from scientific research. Vaccines, lasers, MRI, GPS, the Internet, touchscreens, and many other advances have grown our economy, improved our health, and made our nation stronger and more secure. Additional cuts to federal funding for research and education, at a time when other countries such as China and Korea are dramatically increasing their investments, are creating an innovation deficit. That deficit is a threat to our long-term health, national security and economic growth. Ending sequestration will help close this innovation deficit.
Oregon's research universities have a rich history of innovation, discovery and job creation born out of federal research funding. Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University collectively suffered a $68 million reduction in federal research grants this year as a result of sequestration. That is money that could have led to life-changing discoveries, innovation and much-needed economic activity.
For example, discoveries funded by research dollars at the UO, OSU and Portland State helped Perpetua Power Source Technologies Inc. become a nationally recognized producer of renewable energy products. The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) harnessed federal research at these universities to launch 31 technology start-up companies, creating 120 full-time jobs. OHSU scientists helped develop a drug that may represent one of the world's best hopes for treating and preventing malaria, a disease that kills more than 1 million people each year. We cannot afford to stifle these kinds of discoveries and deepen the nation's innovation deficit.
Access to higher education is also at stake. If drastic budget measures continue, federal student aid programs may be cut at a time when students who are challenged financially need them most. Lower income students at Oregon's largest universities benefited from $100 million dollars in Pell Grant money during the 2011-12 school year. Without that financial help, more than 22,000 students at OSU, UO and Portland State would face a greater struggle to pay for college. Federal student aid must remain a national priority to ensure that Oregonians and all Americans, regardless of their economic status, can attend college and improve the knowledge and skills of the workforce.
The reality is that Congress does not have to harm university research and higher education to curb rising federal debt. We must take steps to address our nation's long-term fiscal challenges. We owe it to our children not to saddle them with debt and fewer opportunities. This is about generational equity. We must pay forward the investment our nation made in us to ensure the continuation of our great history of innovation that bolsters human capital, infrastructure, technology and science.
We urge congressional leadership to act swiftly to restore research funding to higher education by repealing sequestration and restoring America's culture of innovation enrichment. We cannot undo the damage of the past year, but Congress can re-invest in a better, more hopeful future. Oregonians deserve no less.
Ed Ray, Michael Gottfredson, Wim Wiewel and Joe Robertson are the presidents of the Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Portland State University, and Oregon Health & Science University respectively.