How The Sequester’s R&D Cuts Will Hurt Science And Innovation

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After President Obama’s called to attain a “level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race” in the State of the Union, universities are renewing their cry for a deal to avoid the so-called “sequester” in order to preserve federal research and development (R&D) funds.

ScienceWorksForU.S., a project of the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and The Science Coalition, is releasing videos from university leaders across the country about how the scheduled cuts will impact the U.S.’s long-term competitiveness, like this one from University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

National investments in R&D as a percentage of discretionary public spending are down to around 9 percent today from a high of 17 percent in 1962, and the automatic cuts looming in the sequester threaten an 8.4 percent reduction to discretionary spending programs across the board. When you take into account non-discretionary and discretionary spending, total R&D cuts from sequestration over the nine year period will amount to $95 billion.

These cuts will hit universities especially hard because academic institutions perform a huge amount of the research that drives our economy, doing 53 percent of total basic research and 36 percent of all research funded by the U.S. government in 2009. But the $95 billion figure doesn’t reflect the true damage the cuts will have to the U.S. economy because of the exponential impact innovation has in driving our economic growth. A report released last September by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation estimates the sequester’s R&D cuts will reduce GDP by between $203 billion and $860 billion over nine years, and result in 200,000 job losses in 2013 alone.

While the economic impacts could be devastating, looking beyond the numbers, it’s almost impossible to calculate the value add of innovations fueled by federal R&D funding in the U.S. and how many of them — such as medical treatments, the internet, or cell phones — have fundamentally improved or saved the lives of millions.

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