Sequestration woes hit University research funds

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A trillion dollars in across-the-board federal budget cuts set to start on March 1 could cost the state and the University of Minnesota millions of dollars in funding and thousands of jobs.

While Republicans call the effects overblown, the White House has said education, defense, small businesses, research and other areas would be hit hard by the cuts, which are known collectively as the sequester. The University could face millions of dollars in cuts to research grants.

University Vice President for Research Brian Herman said in an email to full-time faculty that the University is preparing the best it can since “information is scarce” on how federal research funding agencies will respond to the cuts.

Len Biernat, a law professor at Hamline University and a former DFL state representative, said the looming budget cuts are the latest example of politicians playing the blame game rather than working together for a solution.

“This is a crazy way to operate,” he said, adding that he thinks there’s no chance Congress will find a resolution before March 1.

President Barack Obama isn’t meeting with Senate and House leaders until Friday, when the automatic budget cuts will have already begun.

Research woes

Although most federal funding agencies have been quiet on their plans for the cuts, the National Institutes of Health announced it would reduce current grants by 10 percent. The National Science Foundation said it would fund 1,000 fewer grants.

Herman said in his email to faculty that the agency responses will likely vary, so the University can’t make specific plans or recommendations until after March 1.

“You can be reassured by the fact that the University’s financial position is strong,” he said, “and that university and collegiate leadership will do everything possible to mitigate the immediate and short-term impact of the sequester.”

Medicinal chemistry professor Courtney Aldrich said he’s not worried about the cuts because funding agencies have been cutting budgets for years.

The problem, he said, could be for new researchers who are looking to get grants for the first time. In 2012, researchers seeking grants from the NIH had a 20 percent success rate, but Aldrich said this figure is lower for disciplines like his.

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