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Top Democrat on Appropriations Committee Outlines Impacts on R&D from Funding Cuts

Richard M. Jones
Number 129 - October 10, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, has outlined what he anticipates will be the impacts of dramatic reductions in departmental and agency budgets that are scheduled to occur on January 2, 2013.  In a 15-page report that was released yesterday to his colleagues in the House, Dicks wrote:

“My purpose here is to illustrate the consequences of an automatic, across-the-board, uniform percentage reduction prescribed by the Budget Control Act (BCA). This letter will examine the impact of sequestration on the whole range of Federal responsibilities and, I hope, help make the case for Congress to act responsibly by agreeing to a more sensible approach to deficit reduction.”

This letter is the latest report on the impacts these funding cuts could have on R&D programs.  The Office of Management and Budget issued a report in September, followed by two reports by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  All four reviews concur that the damage to federally-supported research and development programs would be highly significant.

Excerpts from the Dicks’ report pertaining to R&D programs follow:

National Science Foundation:

“Funding for the National Science Foundation would be cut by approximately $580 million compared to FY 2012, including a cut of $471 million from research grants and $68 million from STEM education programs. At this level, NSF would fund 1,600 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately 19,300 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than in FY 2012.”

Department of Energy:

“Sequestration would cut $423 million from Science and ARPA-E at the Department of Energy. Federally supported basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge and new products. This cut would significantly curtail fundamental research in areas of science that are a key to our nation’s prosperity and to preserving America’s place as the world leader in science and technology. Given the long time horizons necessary to make significant progress in the area of science, Federal support of fundamental research is necessary and an investment that the private sector, with its required attention to short term earnings, cannot support.”


“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.”

National Institutes of Health:

“The National Institutes of Health would lose about $2.5 billion from sequestration. A large portion of NIH’s budget provides research project grants. Under sequestration, about 2,400 fewer research project 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.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would have about $525 million less to prevent and detect outbreaks of infectious diseases like flu, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS and to improve prevention and screening for chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. For example, sequestration of the budgetary resources for grants that help support breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income uninsured and underinsured women would mean that between 35,000 to 45,000 fewer screenings could be provided through this program.”

National Weather Service:

“The 8.2 percent 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. In addition, up to 10 percent of the staffing and other resources for local weather warnings and forecasts would be eliminated. Together, these budget cuts would significantly reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts all across the country.”

Defense RDT&E:

“Research, Development, Test and Evaluation accounts would also be cut, reducing funding for the Joint Strike Fighter by $1 billion, cutting four aircraft, and reducing advance procurement, putting the production ramp at risk for aircraft planned in the outyears. Sequestration would reduce funding for the Aerial Refueling Tanker program by $99.5 million and potentially slow the EMD contract. Even though Congress accelerated risk reduction activities for the Next Generation Bomber, sequestration will cut funding by $33.7 million.”

National Nuclear Security Administration:

“The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) would also be subject to the more substantial defense reduction. Under sequestration, NNSA Weapons activities would be cut by $861 million. With this reduced budget, NNSA would no longer be able to support modernization of the weapons complex, including required life extension programs to ensure the nation’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, reliable and effective. Further, 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 a timely manner, 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.”

In his report, Dicks wrote:

“To be clear: If sequestration takes effect, it is only because it failed to motivate Congressional action as intended. The across-the-board cuts take effect only because the Joint Select Committee failed, and only if, in the ensuing year, Congress and the President fail to reach agreement on a more sensible deficit reduction plan.”

Striking an agreement – what many are calling “a grand bargain” – has been very difficult, as it will entail highly controversial changes to the tax code, entitlement programs, and spending.  Previous efforts have failed.  In commenting on this, Dicks states:

“There are many reasons to prefer a grand bargain on deficit reduction to formulaic, indiscriminate cuts in discretionary spending. In part, it is important to see how these cuts will affect Americans in order for sequestration to motivate Congress to agree on an alternative.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics