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Effects of Sequestration on Academic Research

Fri, 04/05/2013 - 3:29pm
Tim Studt, Editorial Director

Cuts in academic research funded by the federal government are now assured and universities will have to make the best of it.

The sequestration effects that began on March 1, 2013 are expected to result in $85 billion across-the-board federal spending cuts on discretionary spending programs, which includes federal spending in research and development for academic research programs. The mandatory spending cuts themselves are non-discretionary—they are subtracted equally (from a percentage standpoint) across all agencies. The cuts need to be made for the full 2013 fiscal year in just seven months (March to September) and must be completed by the beginning of FY2014 (October 1, 2013).

The major government funding agencies that sequestration applies to include the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Dept. of Energy and NASA. Of course, the Dept. of Defense will see the largest cuts in R&D spending, since its overall R&D spending accounts for nearly 52% of the total $131 billion authorized government spending on R&D. Total government spending cuts across all agencies is expected to be slightly more than $10.0 billion, according to AAAS estimates. These numbers were provided to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on March 1, 2013.

The cuts are expected to be distributed equally by the funding agencies in their grant procedures to the universities that normally receive government funding. Brandeis Univ., Waltham, Mass., for example, is planning for about $51 million of its $685 million in annual federal research revenues (grants and contracts) to be cut as a result of the sequestration.

It should be noted that these sequestration cuts are for FY2013 only. FY2014 budgets will be processed normally using the sequestered FY2013 numbers as a baseline budget. There are no similar cuts that need to be put in place or considered for FY2014 or follow-up years according to current laws in place—the laws requiring sequestered government funding of discretionary federal spending applied only to the FY2013 budget year. FY2014 budget increases will be debated normally in the appropriate congressional committees once the budget proposals are submitted by the OMB, now expected sometime in April (beyond the normal Feb. 4 deadline). 

Theoretically, the budget committees could restore the funding cut by sequester in FY2013 for specific agencies in their FY2014 budgets, but that possibility is neither likely to be proposed in the current fiscal climate, nor would it be approved by President Obama if it did indeed pass a Congressional vote.

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