28 September, 2012
The US Congress has just passed a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded (at a slight increase of 0.6 percent) until March 2013. But while this Act has been successfully hurried through, there is the far bigger question of how ‘sequestration’ may fall upon publically funded programs for the remainder of 2013 and beyond.
Currently, the Budget Control Act (2011) says that $38 billion will be taken from non-defense discretionary government spending which includes funding for science as well as areas such as education, social services, and transportation. Much of this cut could therefore be apportioned to science research, but the situation gets even worse than that when sequestration is taken into account. Should it happen, non-defense discretionary funding will be reduced by about a further 7.6 percent per year under a five year scenario recently put forward by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
However, the uncertainty goes even deeper. In Washington, fear of cuts to military spending has led to calls for sequestration to fall only on non-defense spending. Should this perspective have a strong impact, AAAS reckons that as much as 17.5 percent could be cut from each agency over the next five years. To give a concrete example, the two scenarios represent a potential cut for the National Science Foundation of $2.1 billion or $4.9 billion respectively. Needless to say, the impact of cuts in this area of magnitude would have very serious effects on research programs in universities and other public research agencies.
Sequestration is by no means set in stone. Some political commentators believe there is a chance it could be circumvented by new legislation crafted by Congress in November. But even if this were to happen, cuts to discretionary spending will still be on the table and there are many ways that it could still push science funding further down.
SPSSI Policy Coordinator
More on sequestration and science funding