The impact of sequestration on research

During this busy campaign season, you may have heard politicians bandy about the term sequestration. Here, we’ll try to demystify sequestration and what it could mean for you, your research and your job.

At the end of the deficit and debt ceiling debate in the summer of 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) which mandated a super-committee of legislators come up with at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to address our ballooning national debt. The BCA also authorized that if the super-committee failed, sequestration, or across-the-board budget cuts, would go into effect cutting the necessary amount from the federal budget. Sequestration was designed to cut discretionary spending (NIH, defense, roads) while leaving mandatory spending (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) largely untouched. As you may know, the super-committee did fail, and now the government is staring down the barrel of sequestration.

Before going on recess at the end of August, Congress passed a law that compelled the Obama administration to publish its plans for sequestration. Today, the administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its plan, and it paints a pretty grim picture for biomedical research. The NIH and NSF would each sustain an 8.2% cut to their budgets which would amount to a reduction of roughly $2.5 billion and $460 million, respectively. These cuts would undoubtedly result in fewer grants awarded, a significant number of science jobs lost, and the delay of crucial treatments and cures. In fact, in the introduction to today’s report, OMB even stated that, due to sequestration, “The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases.”

While these cuts would be bad for the biomedical research community, other groups are putting pressure on Congress that could devastate biomedical research even further. Members of the defense community have lobbied hard to have the Department of Defense (DoD) exempted from sequestration. Should they succeed, the cuts to biomedical research would have to more than double in order for the government to comply with the BCA. This is not an existential threat—the House passed H.R. 6365 this past Thursday which would exempt DoD from sequestration. While this bill is not law and it is not expected to become law, the bill had widespread support from House Republicans, which could spell trouble for future bills that look to cut DoD expenditures in an effort to achieve the cuts authorized by the BCA.

Sequestration is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 3, 2013. Since these cuts will be implemented before the next Congress or President are sworn in, the current Congress and President must act to prevent sequestration. Luckily, there is still time to an agreement that averts these devastating cuts. That means that there is also time for YOU to make your voice heard. Make sure your representatives know what you think about impending cuts to the funding for biomedical research. Read through the ASBMB Advocacy Toolkit to find out how to be an effective advocate and contact Ben Corb to find out how ASBMB can help you make your voice heard!

UPDATE: In addition to the $460 million to be cut from the NSF Research budget, an additional $110 million will be cut from other parts of NSF due raising the total amount of NSF funds lost due to sequestration to $570 million.