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National Crises May Doom Research Money

This story was written by Adam Sullivan, The Daily Iowan

President-elect Barack Obama's promise to significantly boost research funding may remain unfulfilled, local researchers fear.

Obama laid out lofty goals for health research funding during his presidential campaign. He aims to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health - a federal research agency that distributes around $28 billion in research annually - according to Obama's campaign website.

However, the administration will face a historic economic downturn, two costly wars, and a push to address environmental woes - none of which has a cheap solution. As a result, University of Iowa political scientists and researchers said resources necessary to meet Obama's research goals could be in short supply.

"I don't know about the plausibility there because there are so many other pressures on the administration and the nation as a whole," said Richard Hichwa, a UI associate vice president for Research. Funding available from the NIH - the UI's biggest contributor of research and grant money - has remained flat in recent years, he said.

Under the Bush administration, other issues bumped research funding from the list of national priorities, UI interim Vice President for Research Jordan Cohen said earlier this year.

"Investments in conflicts abroad have created a significant need for funding," he said. "It's an interesting political climate."

Yet the UI has fared well recently in the fight for sparse grant funds. Last year was the UI's best in terms of research funding - the faculty netted $386.2 million in grants and contracts.

Officials hope that the researchers can garner even larger increases under the new leadership.

But because pouring federal dollars into research ventures doesn't often yield immediate results, federal officials can easily turn their backs on increases in research funding. This can be even more likely in the years following what is likely to be a record federal budget deficit.

"When you're dealing with basic research that may take a while to pay off, it's easy to look at it and say, 'We ought to cut it,' " said UI political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk. "That's just the nature of the process. You can't expect immediate payoff from long-term research."

However, he said, contributing those dollars now could ease the process of addressing other issues in the future.

"Many of the things we're going to address, including health care and the environment, are going to be dependent on good, solid research," he said.

Redlawsk said while the Obama administration may find it difficult to double funding to key research groups, he is hopeful for an overall increase in research funding.

"In the current economic environment, [Obama officials] have to revisit a lot of their original proposals," he said. "But it seems clear that [research] is an area of priority for Obama. He'll do what he can."

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