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Shelby urges close evaluation of federal R&D spending on merit

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today at a hearing on driving innovation through federal investments, expressed strong support for important and productive research and development programs at certain government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Stresses Need to Reform Entitlements to Prevent Crowding Out of Critical Investments in Innovation

WASHINGTON, DC, Tuesday, April 29, 2014 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today at a hearing on driving innovation through federal investments, expressed strong support for important and productive research and development programs at certain government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Shelby also urged the committee to evaluate each program on its merits and pay close attention to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing inefficiencies in government spending:

“Not all government R&D investments, however, are created equally. A recent [GAO] report notes wasteful spending in several defense, healthcare and energy R&D programs. One example it cites is the Department of Energy’s loan program for advanced technology vehicles, which it recommends cutting or rescinding because the costs outweigh the benefits of participating. In general, I hope this Committee will consider the GAO’s input and the work it has done on overlap and duplication in government. Such oversight will ensure that federal research dollars go to the programs that hold the most promise.”

In addition, while stressing the importance of the committee’s adherence to spending limits set in a recent budget deal, Shelby also focused on the need to reform mandatory spending to prevent further crowding out of critical federal investments through discretionary spending:

“The Bipartisan Budget Act, however, is by no means a panacea for the level of indebtedness we face as a nation. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal debt will rise to 78 percent of GDP by 2024, which is about twice the average of the past four decades. Net interest payments to finance this debt will almost quadruple in the next ten years. Discretionary spending, though, if we adhere to current law, will shrink as a percentage of GDP. This highlights a point of which we are all aware: mandatory spending growth is the true driver of our debt.

The full text of Shelby’s prepared remarks are as follows:

“Thank you, Madam Chair.

I look forward to working with you this year to move Appropriations bills forward in our ongoing effort to restore regular order.

I am hopeful that the Committee will have the opportunity to bring individual bills to the floor under an open process.

The Bipartisan Budget Act provided the topline numbers for defense and nondefense spending, which should pave the way for a smoother Appropriations process this year.

As part of this agreement, discretionary spending will be constrained to a level that is not much different from Fiscal Year 2014 spending.

We have already proven that these spending limits are feasible, and it is imperative that we stick to the budget deal.

If we cannot practice fiscal discipline today, we will pay a much higher price in years to come.

The Bipartisan Budget Act, however, is by no means a panacea for the level of indebtedness we face as a nation.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal debt will rise to 78 percent of GDP by 2024, which is about twice the average of the past four decades.

Net interest payments to finance this debt will almost quadruple in the next ten years.

Discretionary spending, though, if we adhere to current law, will shrink as a percentage of GDP.

This highlights a point of which we are all aware: mandatory spending growth is the true driver of our debt.

Indeed, entitlements are expected to grow by over 80 percent by 2024, and far more beyond that.

An unfortunate consequence of this is the crowding-out of important parts of the federal budget, such as spending on research to a find a cure for diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Even this year, we will have to make some tough decisions on what research and development programs merit funding in our Appropriations bills.

Budget pressures will again force us to prioritize these programs so that we can spend taxpayer dollars wisely. Only through due diligence and oversight of the federal government’s so-called investments can we fulfill these responsibilities.

If we are to call them investments, we should be especially concerned that taxpayers are getting good returns.

Today, we will hear testimony on the budget requests of several agencies that support federal research and development programs.

Some of these represent areas of critical innovation. I have long been a proponent of the research conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

Even in a constrained fiscal environment, ensuring that NIH has the tools to advance biomedical research is an investment with broad benefits to society.

In addition, the importance cannot be understated of DARPA’s contribution to life-saving technologies for our troops, such as unmanned systems to disarm explosives.

Not all government R&D investments, however, are created equally.

A recent Government Accountability Office report notes wasteful spending in several defense, healthcare and energy R&D programs.

One example it cites is the Department of Energy’s loan program for advanced technology vehicles, which it recommends cutting or rescinding because the costs outweigh the benefits of participating.

In general, I hope this Committee will consider the GAO’s input and the work it has done on overlap and duplication in government.

Such oversight will ensure that federal research dollars go to the programs that hold the most promise.

In addition, I encourage federal agencies to look for ways to promote public-private partnerships, many of which stretch taxpayer dollars further by tapping into the expertise of innovators in the private sector.

I look forward to the testimony today and hope it will help us make some difficult decisions.

Thank you.”
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