As deadline to avoid sequestration expires, U. research and endowment face potential decreases

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A set of spending cuts to the federal budget could take effect automatically Friday if President Obama and congressional Republicans fail to reach a compromise to avert it. The package of cuts, known as sequestration, could shrink the University’s federally-sponsored research budget by $15 to 20 million for fiscal year 2013 and indirectly diminish its endowment.

The sequestration measure was put in place as part of a legislative deal struck between Democrats and Republicans in 2011 to decrease the federal deficit and to avoid letting the United States slip into sovereign default as a result of surpassing the national debt ceiling. A White House Office of Management and Budget memo released Wednesday anticipates cuts of 9 percent for nondefense programs and 13 percent for defense programs across the board as a result of sequestration.

Sequestration is intended to reign in the federal budget by automatically cutting spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Over the rest of the fiscal year, an additional $85 billion will be cut from federal spending if the full sequestration package goes into effect.

The sequestration could impact University operations that receive federal funding, including federally-funded research, undergraduate financial aid and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

According to Congressman Rush Holt NJ-12, whose constituency includes the University, sequestration could diminish the U.S. budget by $15 to 20 billion and could have “spotty, but very noticeable” consequences across various University operations because the University’s various departments and programs receive different amounts of federal funding and use it differently.

Dean of Research A.J. Stewart Smith said that the University could lose $10 to 15 million in federal research grants of the roughly $200 million in federal funding it receives annually.

“We have since received an email from the National Science Foundation estimating roughly a five percent cut,” Smith said.

National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh released a statement Wednesday notifying university presidents and grant recipients that, in an addition to a five percent reduction in NSF appropriations, the agency expected to award approximately 1,000 fewer grants in fiscal year 2013.

Smith said that the University has not yet heard how other government agencies will be curtailing their budgets.  The bulk of federal funding that the University receives typically comes from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce.

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