Washington budget cuts squeeze scientific research

“Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure,” the new report from NDD United, shines a light on the actual scientists affected by Washington’s budget recklessness. Federal investments in scientific discovery have propelled Americans to the moon, launched the Internet and sequenced the human genome. The vibrant culture of freedom and curiosity that abounds in the United States has produced astounding breakthroughs in every field of science, from astrophysics to zoology. In “Faces of Austerity”, four examples are highlighted that demonstrate the devastating effect of budget cuts to the scientific research enterprise:

Budget cuts affect health, economy of Americans

Heparin, commonly used as an anticoagulant in surgical procedures, is one of the oldest drugs in clinical use today. In 2008, a contaminated batch of heparin developed in China resulted in one of the largest drug recalls in recent history. As a result, use of heparin was slowed, and confidence dropped as doctors worried about whether or not they could trust the next dose they prescribed. Enter Jian Liu, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and member of ASBMB. Jian and his research group have developed what they believe to be a major breakthrough in the production of a first-of-its-kind synthetic heparin.  However, Jian’s grant was delayed as Congress delayed and ultimately allowed sequestration to happen forcing him to slow the pace of his research and cancel plans to increase the number of researchers in his laboratory. Jian said:

It is getting more and more difficult for me to plan out into the future what my next steps in research will be. As funding gets more difficult, and less reliable, I feel the pressures to do more with less. I have seen colleagues take their research to other countries, greener pastures.

Cuts to research prevent young people from pursuing science careers

A college education and research experience as an undergraduate are essential for forming a solid foundation from which to launch a scientific career. Not only has sequestration cut funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to support undergraduate research assistants at Central Washington University, but it has also cut financial aid that targets minorities and low-income students. These cuts prevent the next generation of scientists from making a potentially ground-breaking discovery. Dr. Michael Jackson, professor of physics at CWU, said:

In the student-funding world, it is often said that predictability is nearly as important as affordability. One cannot plan or know what to save or borrow in the uncertain world created by federal budget stalemates. This also adversely impacts research since someone may be less likely to launch research initiatives if continued support is uncertain.

Harmful algal blooms: How cuts to research affect our national waterways, health and economy

Preserving the health of our national waterways, lakes and ocean areas is necessary for our nation’s health and economic vitality. One threat, harmful algal blooms, can contaminate these waterways and release toxins that are lethal to fish, mammals, birds and humans. Scientific research to predict and prevent HAB formation is supported by the National Ocean Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose budget has been cut by 40 percent. Should sequestration and budget cuts continue to reduce the research capabilities of the National Ocean Service, exciting advances in the prediction and detection of HABs would be put on hold, resulting in economic losses and threatening economically valuable fisheries that are crucial for the American food supply. Dr. Donald Anderson, Director of the U.S. National Office: Harmful Algal Blooms, said:

National HAB research over the past 15 years has resulted in a powerful example of productive collaboration among federal, private and industry sectors. Unfortunately, recent reductions in support of HAB research and forecasting are occurring during the critical research-to-operations stage.  This significantly reduces the return on investment and jeopardizes the economic and human health benefits at a time when the frequency and intensity of HABs are increasing.

Data cuts impede sound business decision-making

Due to sequestration, the Bureau of Economic Analysis discontinued the RIMS II program. RIMS data are used to assess how the construction or loss of a corporation would affect a local area and its economy. For example, Patrick Jankowski, Vice President for Research at the Greater Houston Partnership uses RIMS data to assess the economic impact of businesses relocating to the Houston area. The BEA updates the data continually, yet they operate about two or three years behind, thus Patrick had planned to purchase the 2011 data in 2013 to better reflect the significant growth in Houston. Instead, he will have to purchase less comprehensive data from a private company for ten times more than the BEA price. With the implications of the budget cuts on statistical agencies, Patrick said:

They are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. These cuts are affecting data collection, making government more inefficient and that is something nobody wants.

Read each story in its entirety at nddunited.org.

2 thoughts on “Washington budget cuts squeeze scientific research

  1. Pingback: Science Policy Roundup: November 15, 2013 | ASBMB Policy Blotter

  2. Pingback: Politicizing pediatric research | ASBMB Policy Blotter

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