Sequester could cut funding for scientific research, development by $58 billion

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Members of the science community are concerned they could see a $58 billion reduction in federal research and development funding if Congress fails to enact a budget by March 1.

Their concerns about what could happen if the sequester, or across the board cuts, are implemented were addressed during a call in press conference featuring representatives from both the science community and the Non-Defense Discretionary Coalition United, a group comprised of 3,200 national, state and local organizations funded by federal non-defense discretionary spending.

Dr. Jeremy Berg, president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said the impacts of sequestration are “terribly concerning.” He explained that the 5.1 percent cut across the board as a result of sequestration, will mean a collective 25 percent cut to the National Institute of Health’s budget if Congress cannot reach an agreement.

“Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the NIH’s budget is already committed to ongoing grants,” Berg said. “So, the way grants are made for an average of four years but they are funded sequentially out of each year.”

What’s worse is the cuts are being done indiscriminately, said Dr. Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who had worked with NIH previously, as opposed to looking at areas in the budget where things can be cut back.

She added the cuts will bring the community back to 1988 funding levels, which will prevent various organizations and universities across the country from doing any sort of groundbreaking research which led to inventions such as the Internet or weather satellites.

Universities may be the most effected by the sequester, according to Leshin, where she said RPI will be training 300 less doctoral students and preventing the fostering of future innovators. She said it is hard to predict exactly which projects could be effected at RPI, likening the sequester to a tornado.

“You know the damage is going to be bad all over the place, you just can’t say exactly which houses will be destroyed,” Leshin said.

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