As sequestration begins its effect on our lives may never be fully realized or calculable. This government policy is slowly starting to pull our economy apart as budget negotiations start in Washington. Shutting down the government as a strategy didn’t work during the “Contract with America” in 1994 as non-essential government services were halted for 28 days. Post 9.11, it is too dangerous for us to try it again. So now we have sequestration over the same issues. President Obama is refusing, as President Clinton did, to accede to Republican demands for steep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid. Defense spending is now included in sequestration.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich threatened to prevent a vote on increasing the federal government’s debt ceiling, which would have forced the U.S. into the unprecedented position of defaulting on its outstanding debt. We already went through that Kabuki dance. We are now, as we did in 1994, operating under continuing resolution bill allowing the government to keep running.
When the White House and Congressional negotiators hammered out an agreement over the budget, we got a seven year balanced budget plan that included modest spending cuts and tax increases. In the long run, most of the cuts in domestic spending including the reform of welfare, did work for the betterment of the country. President Clinton became more centrist. President Obama may think he’s got a lock on the American psyche, but not everyone believes holding the economy hostage as the sequestration is doing is great policy. In those days we did not have social media and a lot more eyes on our government. I would not count on the American people holding any one party responsible, as they did in 1994. I believe each Congressional legislator will be watched during this time. We are responsible to stop the impasse.
We heard from General Bingham that employees will be furloughed at WSMR, the same thing is happening in El Paso. William Beaumont Medical Center will be furloughing nurses. It’s probably a good thing government employees won’t be able to travel to monitor contracts, meet with researchers at the test facilities and universities because the air traffic controllers might be furloughed. This directly impacts our hotels, rental car agencies and restaurants. Yet, we all benefit when our government colleagues visit scientists and engineers at White Sands Missile Range, NASA White Sands Test Facility, New Mexico State University and Holloman Air Force base. Government employees are now being told to conduct their business via video conference.
Grandparents know Skype is a short term technology bridge and no replacement for seeing your grandchildren. Talking to them and hearing for yourselves how everyone is doing makes life more complete. The business of our city, our state and our nation cannot be conducted for long via Skype.
In 1945, Mervin Kelly was promoted to executive vice president of Bell Laboratories, a beautiful new industrial lab. Kelly had designed the new laboratory to be a rich environment, one conducive to collaboration. No one worked with a closed door. Kelly, upon his promotion, reorganize the labs to create interdisciplinary teams. One of the teams was the solid state physics team. Bill Shockley was among its members. Kelly was the man who built the vacuum tube manufacturing facilities at the lab. He knew how difficult, expensive and unreliable a component it was. The vacuum tube was hampering the growth of the phone system. Kelly stopped by Shockley’s office after lunch one day and in passing suggested it may be possible to replace vacuum tube switching to all electronic devices. That one chance conversation started Bill Shockley on the theoretical journey that led him to conceive of the conjunction transistor. Shockley went on to win the Nobel Prize.
John Mayo, former Labs president points out, “Bell Lab’s substantial innovations account for a large fraction of the jobs in this country and around the world. And they also account for a lot of the social status of the world.” If this sequestration goes on too long, the unintended consequences of loss of essential collaboration and discussion, happening across our nation may be far more costly than we can calculate.
A 2008 study titled “Where Do Innovations Come From?” concluded that partnerships among corporations, government laboratories, and federally funded university research has become increasingly essential to the US innovations pipeline…in 2006, for instance, “77 of the 88 U.S. entities that produced significant innovations…(innovation) is more deeply intertwined with government than many of us realize.”