Durbin: Boost research funding $100 billion by ending sequestration caps

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A $100 billion boost in research funding would result from a bill backed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Durbin announced Monday he plans to introduce the legislation to lift federal budget caps — known as sequestration — in order to increase funding for basic scientific research, citing China’s outpacing the United States in such spending during the past decade.

Durbin’s “American Innovation Act” would boost by 5 percent the yearly budgets of five government agencies that focus on cutting-edge research.

He announced the legislation — the cost would total $100 billion over 10 years — at the 1871 technology startup hub at the Merchandise Mart after he received a “Champion of Science” award from the Science Coalition. The coalition is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group of major public and private research universities.

Durbin said the investment is needed to “maintain America’s global scientific leadership” and keep the economy strong, citing “a growing number of America’s best young researchers [who] are taking their talents to other industries – and other countries.”

He pointed to Chicago’s growing reputation for technology innovation and the importance of immigrants’ role in it. He gave as an example University of Illinois at Chicago professor Siva Sivananthan, a Sri Lankan native, whose infrared technology was used in the night-vision goggles that Special Forces members wore when they raided Osama bin Laden’s hideout on May 2, 2011.

Durbin also noted that China’s research and development spending grew 20.7 percent between 2001 and 2011, while the U.S. growth averaged 4.4 percent, according to the Science Coalition.

The five agencies slated to get Durbin’s proposed spending increase are: the National Science Foundation; the Department of Energy Office of Science; the Department of Defense Science and Technology Programs; the NASA Science Directorate; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Scientific and Technical Research.

Representatives from several state universities were at the news conference to support Durbin’s call for more research funding. They included:

  • Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro
  • Southern Illinois University System President Randy J. Dunn
  • University of Illinois President Robert A. Easter and President-elect Timothy Killeen
  • University of Chicago Provost Eric Isaacs
  • Northern Illinois University Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships Lesley Rigg
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