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Senior Appropriator Warns About Impacts of Automatic Funding Cuts

Richard M. Jones
Number 127 - October 19, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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“At this level, NSF would fund nearly 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately 18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than it did in FY 2011.” – House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks

About a month from now, a special congressional “super committee” is charged with delivering a plan to Congress that would trim the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion during the next decade.  If the committee is unable to agree upon a plan, or if Congress refuses to adopt it, the budget deal worked out by Congress and the Obama Administration this summer calls for automatic funding cuts.  The top-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee has outlined the projected impacts of these automatic cuts. 

In his October 14, 2011 letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Norm Dicks (D-WA) warned the:

“Committee . . . must find a way to overcome partisan differences, agree on a balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction, focus on economic growth and job creation, and do no harm to the faltering economic recovery in the short-run.  If you fail, dire consequences will await our nation.”

Dicks cites estimates by the widely-respected Congressional Budget Office that the enforcement provisions in the Budget Control Act would reduce discretionary funding for nondefense programs by 7.8 percent in Fiscal Year 2013.  Discretionary funding for defense programs would be reduced by 10.0 percent.  If President Obama decides to exempt military personnel from the cut, the projected reduction in funding for other defense programs would total 13 percent.  All these cuts would automatically occur in January 2013. 

Dick’s eleven-page letter outlines the projected impacts of these budget cuts on various programs, selections of which follow:

Health, Science, and Innovation:

“About 2,500-2,700 fewer National Institute of Health research grants would be made to universities and institutes throughout the country for research into the causes and treatments of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy.”

“Funding cuts would cripple NASA’s efforts to establish U.S. commercial capability to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station.  These cuts would effectively extend the period of U.S. dependence on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft for these flights, now that the space shuttle has been retired.  Thus, the cut would not be a true savings, as the U.S. would need to pay Russia for additional Soyuz flights, at a cost of at least $63 million per seat.”

“Funding for the National Science Foundation would be cut by approximately $530 million compared to FY 2011, including a cut of $430 million from research grants and $67 million from STEM education programs.  At this level, NSF would fund nearly 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately 18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than it did in FY 2011.”

Public Safety:

“Funding cuts would significantly impact the National Weather Service’s forecasting capability.  Cuts to NOAA weather satellite development would result in a 2- to 4-year period in which weather data from NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellite would be unavailable, putting American communities at greater risk from tornadoes, hurricanes, and other major weather events.”


“Research, Development, Test and Evaluation accounts would also be cut by 13% . . . . “

“The National Nuclear Safety [Security] Administration (NNSA) would also be subject to the more substantial defense reduction.  Under sequestration, NNSA weapons activities would no longer have the budgetary resources to support the Nuclear Posture Review and New START implementation.  NNSA would not have the resources to maintain a level of Emergency Readiness commensurate with threat conditions and would be unable to operate and respond in the current concept of operations timelines, adding significant risk to the first responders and public’s safety in the event of a radiological or nuclear incident.”

“Defense nuclear nonproliferation efforts would also be constrained.  NNSA would not have the resources to achieve a four-year lockdown of vulnerable nuclear material, leaving materials vulnerable to terrorist theft and undermining our national security.”

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee did not release a similar letter.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics