With the economy, unemployment, and Big Bird at the forefront of the presidential election, not much time has been spent talking about science and technology policy.
When technology policy does come up, though, both President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney say all the right things—the country need more research, development, and innovation. It needs to stay ahead of China. It needs to develop new energy sources.
But at a recent panel discussion at Washington, D.C. think tank the New America Foundation, experts said the discussion was likely little more than talk.
"I think you see some clear differences on science and technology proposals," said Stacy Cline, counsel for Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, a ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. "I think it's a factor of the difficult budget environment we're in."
So while Obama has proposed doubling funds for the National Science Foundation, Romney has said that keeping the deficit from growing is more important. And Obama's plan for the NSF may be little more than a pipe dream, according to Sheri Fink, a fellow at the New America Foundation.
"The point is if we're facing all these cuts, it doesn't matter what the lip service may be to research, it's about what you can actually get done," Fink said.
That's why it's troubling, Fink and Cline both said, that neither candidate has released clear proposals on technology issues. A brief policy paper on space exploration released late last month by Romney was short on specific details, and he has generally spoken broadly on technology issues such as Internet policy and NSF funding.
"If you're doing across the board cutting within agencies, you have to have a strong sense about what your priorities are," Fink said.
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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.