What is sequestration?
The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) established caps on discretionary spending over 10 years, resulting in $1 trillion in cuts spread across defense and nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs. The law also directed a congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify an additional $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over 10 years. The failure of the bipartisan “super committee” to agree on a deficit reduction plan triggered a “sequester” to take effect on January 2, 2013.
Congress averted the January deadline by extending the deadline to March 1, 2013.
In the context of funding federal programs, sequester means imminent, across-the-board cuts to most programs, both defense and nondefense—in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts already sustained through the Budget Control Act’s discretionary caps.
The budget sequester will be disastrous for our economy and security. The sequester was never intended to take effect – it was an irrational deterrent meant to force both sides to the table and still ought to be viewed as an unacceptable alternative to inaction on the part of Congress.
How will the sequester impact NDD programs?
The sequester will mean an automatic 6.4% cut to program funding levels in 2013 for most NDD programs including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). These cuts will truly be across-the-board, with no departmental or agency able to control how the sequester impacts individual programs. Cuts of this level will be devastating to the public health infrastructure.
For example, cuts to the NIH will stifle medical discoveries that save lives and drive our economy. NIH supports scientists in every state across the nation; thus, every state will feel the sequestrations’ effects. In eight states, these cuts will exceed $100 million. Labs will shut down, scientists will be laid off, and local businesses that support research centers will close. More troubling, progress on promising cures will grind to a halt, while China and other global competitors double and triple their research investments.
Under sequestration, NSF could lose a total of $2.5 billion in funding. Cuts of this size could return NSF’s R&D budget to roughly FY 2009 levels. For context, what NSF programs receive funding of an equivalent magnitude to these figures? The average cut under the balanced scenario, $421.3 million per year, is about equivalent to half the Engineering Directorate budget, roughly two-thirds of the Biological Sciences Directorate budget, or half the size of the Education and Human Resources directorate. It is also an amount equivalent to the agency’s spending on polar programs, and larger than the current individual budgets for several cross-agency initiatives, such as the Faculty Early Career Development program, the Graduate Research Fellowship program, or advanced manufacturing or sustainability research funding initiatives. In FY 2012, NSF grants averaged about $161,000 per year, and so $421.3 million could have funded about 2,600 of these in FY 2012.
What must be done!!
Congress can still act to prevent these devastating cuts! It is imperative that you contact your Members of Congress. To do so, you can use the letter found here. Write a letter to the editor. A sample and guidelines are shown below. Ask all of your friends, colleagues, and family members to participate. Sign up to follow your member of Congress’ tweets, then tweet him/her examples of why research matters. If you need further suggestions, contact the CLS. We will provide you with many examples of things you can do that can make an impact.