Commentary: How NOT to Make America Great Again


Dan Berglund, president of the State Science & Technology Institute, offers this analysis of the budget proposal offered by the Trump administration:

The Trump Administration’s skinny budget proposal calls itself, “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” From the information contained in the document, it is clear the Administration does not view science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and the economic development efforts built around those activities as the path forward to making “America great again.” The program eliminations and drastic cuts are not the way to move the country forward economically. So what is behind this proposal? Two things: 1) a fight over the proper role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory. A full community response is needed and all of us must get off the sidelines and on to the playing field.

The budget blueprint proposes drastic cuts for research at NIH, DOE’s Office of Science, NOAA and EPA and would eliminate a score of federal programs that serve as the cornerstone of federal activity in supporting an innovation economy, including the Economic Development Administration, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, ARPA- E, the Appalachian Regional Commission, SBA’s Regional Innovation Clusters program and CDFI Fund, among others. (The National Science Foundation is not mentioned in the proposal, so details on how much the Administration will propose it be cut will not be available until the full budget is released in April or May. Similarly, the Regional Innovation Strategies program is not mentioned specifically in the budget proposal.) All of these proposals are against the aims of SSTI’s policy platform for federal support of innovation economies.

Motivations behind the budget proposal
There appear to be two primary motivations behind the budget proposal: 1) a fight once again over the role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory.
Throughout the 62-page document there are recycled ideological talking points to justify program elimination. Many comments contained in the document indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the programs they propose to eliminate or the belief that the federal government has no role in economic development, including:

  • EDA has “limited measurable impacts and duplicates other Federal programs”
  • MEP centers would “transition solely to non-Federal revenue sources, as was originally intended when the program was established”
  • Some SBA programs including Regional Innovation Clusters are targeted because “the private sector provides effective mechanisms to foster local business development and investment”
  • ARPA-E should be eliminated because “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies”

Never mind that numerous reports have been done about EDA’s economic impact, that Congress reauthorized the MEP program just last year with a funding structure that includes federal funding and without federal funding the remaining centers would drop their focus on small and medium-sized manufacturers, and that the private sector alone does not provide effective mechanisms to encourage economic development or disruptive energy R&D.

Beyond a clear ideological view that the federal government has no role in promoting economic growth — a position rejected since at least the early 1800s when the federal government funded canals and other key infrastructure items, it is hard to view this proposal as anything more than a negotiating tactic. As anyone who has bought a house or bargained for an item at a flea market knows, you start with a low ball offer knowing that you’ll settle higher and that both you and the seller will ultimately be happy with the final price.

But this budget is not a real estate negotiation and settling for reduced cuts and declaring victory should not be an option for any of us.

A concluding thought
There is broad popular support for an economic growth agenda focused on innovation, science, technology, and entrepreneurship. We regret the Administration’s initial proposal would send this country in a different direction. We look forward to doing our part and working with others to make our case to Congress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *