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House Science Committee Holds Hearing on Building Back the U.S. Research Enterprise: COVID Impacts and Recovery

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee met on Thursday, February 25th to discuss the impact that COVID-19 is having on research and researcher productivity, including the science pipeline. Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) began the hearing by outlining challenges to researchers caused by the pandemic including: time and financial constraints; losing graduate and future researchers; a reduction in productivity; the challenges of resuming paused research; and elevated stress and anxiety levels shown by graduate students at all levels, especially among marginalized groups.

Members of the Committee heard from four expert witnesses on how the pandemic has affected scientific research: Dr. Felice J. Levine, Executive Director, American Educational Research Association (a member of FABBS); Dr. Sudip Parikh, Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Dr. Christopher Keane, Vice President for Research, Washington State University; and Mr. Thomas Quaadman, Executive Vice President, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Of primary concern were the consequences for future researchers and early career scholars. With labs closed and research halted, many students feel they have no path forward. According to Dr. Levine, 70 percent of doctoral students and undergraduates say that COVID-19 has substantially slowed the progress of their research and/or educational development. Additionally, 45 percent of doctoral students say they had to extend their degree completion because of COVID-19. (Study link) A great number of students have also dropped out of research altogether in order to support themselves and their families.

Witnesses also spoke about the lack of spending and commitment from the U.S government in recent years, including during the pandemic, for funding Research and Development (R&D). The witnesses expressed a concern that China could overtake the United States as the hub for research and development in the near future. Mr. Quaadman stated that today 70 percent of all R&D spending is through the private sector, as compared to the 1960s, when 70 percent was funded through the federal government. Additionally, the United States’ R&D spending is the lowest it has been in 60 years and has been slowly decaying since the 2008 financial crisis. Chinese spending on R&D has exploded rapidly, growing 17 percent annually. In contrast the US spending has grown only 4.8 percent annually.

Dr. Parikh encourage Committee members to also recognize the good news for science, reminding Members that the biomedical industry responded remarkably quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and we have seen record-shattering submissions to journals and articles. The witnesses’ discussed solutions such as the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act (RISE), as well as the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act, legislation endorsed by FABBS. Lawmakers also questioned witnesses on flexible funding, such as widening the net of grant outlays; focusing more on long-term solutions, as opposed to simply responding to the Pandemic; bringing back in-person schooling, and how funding would be used if labs remain closed; and increase coordination, both between academia and the private sector as well as interdisciplinary collaboration.

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