President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for scientific research wouldn’t just cut funding at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland — it would gut it.
And while officials at PNNL don’t believe Congress will go along with such severe cutbacks, the president’s recommendation is still an unsettling way to start federal budget talks.
Our national lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to have more sense, and realize that science and technology research is a long-term investment that requires reliable and continual funding.
Then they need to make sure the budget reflects that understanding and allocates enough money for PNNL to continue its world-changing mission.
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Under Trump’s proposal, PNNL officials have figured the lab would see $190 million less than its current budget of about $950 million.
This would result in a loss of more than 1,000 jobs at PNNL, according to a preliminary analysis done by lab leadership.
That’s a devastating chunk, considering the total number of employees at the Richland lab is in the 4,000 range.
The laboratory has grown to become the largest single employer in the Tri-Cities. So naturally we are concerned about the negative effect extreme budget cuts would have to our local economy.
But such huge monetary losses at PNNL would go far beyond our own community.
PNNL is the nation’s premier laboratory in chemistry, environmental science and data analysis. Its work has improved the lives of many people on the planet for decades.
Research at the lab has resulted in many groundbreaking discoveries that most of us likely take for granted. But it can take decades for a scientist’s hunch to lead to life-changing innovations later — and that’s why continual funding is so important.
For example, PNNL scientists were pioneers in the 1970s when they developed the technology for a holographic imaging system. Their work led to the scanners we use today at airports around the world, helping detect nonmetallic weapons and explosives hidden in clothing.
When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melted down in 1986, PNNL scientists collected fallout data and analyzed levels of radiation wafting over the United States. The lab was called on to help 25 years later when an earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
And now PNNL researchers are advancing the technology necessary to detect nuclear explosions around the world.
The lab also has developed a disposable microscope that can be attached to a smart phone or iPad so first responders, like police and firefighters, can quickly identify suspicious substances such as anthrax bacteria.
In 1974, a PNNL researcher even invented optical digital recording — which eventually led to the CDs and DVDs we use today.
We could go on and on.
The point is that science and technology can’t advance with stop-and-start funding. Like cleaning up nuclear waste at Hanford, it is imperative that progress is made, and a continual cash flow is key to that.
As for President Trump’s budget cuts at PNNL, we would ask him: Do we really want to risk losing our place in the world as a leader in innovation and technology?
That’s what is at stake if the budgets for science and research are decimated.
We thought your administration wanted to make America great again.
PNNL already makes America great. Don’t cut the lab's funding.
Instead, let it continue doing the tremendous work it has been doing for the past 50 years.