It’s up to Congress to fix Trump’s science mess
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We give up. Since President Trump’s inauguration we’ve been arguing with our friends and scientific colleagues that every new president has a lot to learn, and President Trump deserved some time to get up to speed (www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/opinion/by-investing-in-science-trump-can-strengthen-the-economy.html; thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/335300-washington-needs-high-level-science-and-technology-expertise). But for us his clock has run out.

It’s not just that he failed the moral leadership test with his statements about this summer’s Charlottesville events. It’s not just that he has transformed the United States from a respected world leader into a petulant provocateur. Both would suffice.

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But the disdain he has shown for science through budgeting and appointments, has made his presidency irretrievable for us. Two words are sufficient to describe his science spending plan: slash and burn.

His proposal would eviscerate the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s science and energy programs. White House chaos has only underscored his poorly conceived and unpredictable policy agenda.

We’ve had enough. And if we judge by recent actions, so, too, have many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike.

The House has already rejected many of the president’s draconian budget cuts that would put our nation’s vaunted but increasingly challenged science enterprise at great risk. When the Senate returns from its August hiatus, it should continue to follow its inclinations and scrap the president’s ill-considered spending proposals.

And it should fill in the holes left by far-right ideologues in the House, who believe that industry will step up and fund long-term applied research, even though, under the Wall Street instant gratification gun, for the most part it hasn’t for decades. In the name of ideological purity, the White House and the House would eliminate ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s extremely successful Advanced Research Projects Agency.

That would be a serious mistake. The agency is modeled on DARPA, the Defense Department’s analog, which has had an extraordinary track record – think the Internet, GPS and stealth aircraft – and strong bipartisan support since its founding almost 60 years ago.

The Energy Department’s counterpart has had less than a decade to prove its worth, but a recent National Academies assessment gave it high marks for effective sponsorship of high-risk transformational research that private industry is almost never willing to undertake. Without ARPA-E, it’s a safe bet that China will lead the world in developing and manufacturing advanced batteries and continue to maintain its outsized share of solar panel production.

The White House and the House would also gut Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy research at a time when the rest of the world is doubling down on those technologies. The Senate should hold firm and reject the lower chamber’s plan that would make America weaker economically.

Congress should also reject plans the administration has floated requiring foreign students to renew their visas annually. Such uncertainty, added to anti-immigrant Trump rhetoric, could choke off the flow of young high-tech talent from abroad.

American innovation depends on our nation’s ability to attract the best and brightest from every part of the world. Albert Einstein was a German immigrant. Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant. Elon Musk is a South African immigrant. And according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Science Foundation, almost 40 percent of the American winners of the Nobel Prize since 2000 have been immigrants. Last year, all six American winners of the Nobel prize in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics were immigrants.

Most of the luminaries came here before they had demonstrated their scientific prowess. The recently released RAISE Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP senator: CBO moving the goalposts on ObamaCare mandate Cruz: It’s a mistake for House bill to raise taxes MORE (R-Ark.) and Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.), would make it far more difficult for many of them to seek U.S. residence.

The legislation, endorsed by President Trump, would use a point system to rank applicants. It would favor people between the ages of 26 through 30 with advanced degrees. Closing our borders to all but those who have already established their competencies inevitably will compromise our nation’s ability to compete in the global science and technology economy.

The short-sighted immigration policy could have other consequences. Our decades-old open-door policy has led other nations to reciprocate, affording American scientists the opportunity to collaborate on projects abroad. American high-energy physicists, for example, constitute the largest national cohort at the Large Hadron Collider, the international center for particle physics, in Geneva, Switzerland.

If we begin to close our doors to young foreign students, American scientists could find doors in other countries beginning to close, as well. The result would be bad for science and bad for America.

The Trump administration seems to treat science as an afterthought rather than a national treasure. The president has yet to name a White House science advisor, apparently willing to rely for technological advice on Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who has no demonstrable background in any scientific or engineering field.

Across federal agencies science positions remain largely unfilled, and in the case of Under Secretary for Science at the Department of Energy – which by statute requires science or engineering expertise – the new appointee, Paul Dabbar, is best known for managing mergers and acquisitions at J.P. Morgan Chase.

Neither Mr. Dabbar, nor Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry’s grid plan will keep on the lights — and the Wi-Fi Eric Trump’s brother-in-law promoted at Department of Energy Official National Park account: There's 'overwhelming consensus' on climate change MORE, have much in the way of science or engineering pedigrees. They can’t fix that deficit, but they could take action to reestablish the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) and reconvene the department’s energy technology advisory committees. Both could provide them with sage advice in managing a complex department with critical science and technology responsibilities ranging from nuclear weapons to fundamental research.

As for Mr. Trump, we’ve resigned ourselves to taking our case to Congress.

Michael S. Lubell, a physics professor at City College of the City University of New York, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Science and Technology Policy: A Practical Guide to Navigating the Maze.” Burton Richter, an emeritus professor of physical sciences at Stanford, a Nobel Laureate and National Medal of Science winner, is the author of “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century.”


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.