Over the past few years, Congress has taken aim at U.S. science funding. The present America Competes Reauthorization Act is but one example. This bill would make several changes to science funding, but two stand out. One, it states that “the results of any research, development, demonstration, or commercial application projects or activities of the [Energy] Department may not be used for regulatory assessments or determinations by [f]ederal regulatory authorities.” Two, it substitutes politicians’ preferences for scientists’ when deciding what research gets funded. Neither change is a good idea, and the bill as a whole is detrimental to American competitiveness.
To see why, consider the analogy of home repair. Let’s say your old electric hot-water heater breaks and you call in a plumber to install a new one. Typically, the plumber would ask you some questions and then provide options. You’d choose your preferred one, with your choice limited by your budget. You’d probably also try to pick an experienced plumber so as to minimize the chance that you’d get bad advice. While you’d try to hold the line against cost overruns, you’d likely let the plumber decide how to spend your budget.