Lesser-Known Sequester Impacts

Everyone seems to know about the across-the-board, federal spending cuts, known as sequester, that took effect March 1. In addition, the law passed last week to rescind the sequester-driven furloughs of air-traffic controllers was in virtually every newspaper in the country.

However, cuts in research and development (R&D) are having less-obvious impacts that get little news coverage. The major impacts deduced from discussions with government managers, and from the American Geoscience Institute (AGI) weekly sequester-impact survey are:

  • Government agencies are taking a long time to determine how to implement the sequester cuts.
  • Government agencies are choosing to cut funding for grants and contracts rather than furlough or lay off employees.
  • Sequester cuts are causing cancellation of, or delays in, funding government projects, grants and contracts.
  • Delays and cuts in R&D funding are causing stress and anxiety, especially for entry-level and younger scientists.
  • Academia is feeling the impact more than government and industry scientists.
  • Because of sequestration and earlier cuts and regulations, attendance at conferences and meetings has been sharply cut.
  • Government agencies have cut or delayed hiring interns, graduate students and staff.

Background Data on the Sequester:

  • The required cuts in non-defense R&D are approximately $4.5 billion per year for fiscal year (FY) 2013 through FY 2017.
  • Non-defense R&D funding for FY 2013 was $63.4 billion.
  • The sequester cuts average about 7 percent.
  • Federal R&D investment at its lowest point since FY 2002, and more than $25 billion in constant dollars below the all-time peak in 2010. This represents a 17.1 percent decline in just three years.

Looking at the chart at the top, this last statistic can be interpreted as returning R&D speeding to levels common before 2002, or as an unprecedented cut.

It is too early to know whether industry will make up the loss in federal R&D dollars by boosting their funding. Industry R&D certainly grew in 2010 and 2011 and should continue the trend, as oil company profits continue to grow.

To participate in the AGI survey go to Bit.ly/WDRhoL.

Last 5 posts by Edie Allison

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