Why is sequestration bad?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why is sequestration bad?

Credit: Washington Post, altered by Chemjobber

So, as promised, the second part on the “fiscal cliff.” Apart from the big tax increases that were planned because of the fiscal cliff, there are also large budget cuts planned. What’s undesired for both parties in Congress is the targets of the cuts and the means by which they will be applied. From the Washington Post:

Legislators don’t have any discretion with the across-the-board cuts: They are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers). The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a budget deal to avoid the cuts.

Naturally, the science funding agencies will be hit because of this. From C&EN’s article on the issue:

For example, the National Institutes of Health, part of the Department of Health & Human Services, faces a total of $11.3 billion in cuts over the first five years of sequestration. Elsewhere, the Environmental Protection Agency could lose $213 million and the Department of Energy could be out $4.6 billion.

For example, the National Science Foundation’s average annual budget over the first five years is $5.6 billion, assuming congressional appropriators hold all discretionary accounts flat to mirror the overall cap set by the law. Each year of this period, it would lose an average of $421 million to deficit reduction, for a total five-year loss of $2.1 billion, according to AAAS.

…Sequestration would make that situation worse, says Steven Fluharty, senior vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania. The university received $900 million in R&D awards in 2012, 80% of which came from the federal government. He estimates that sequestration could cost the university $50 million to $60 million per year in research funding and more than 1,100 jobs.

But what is immediately relevant to me is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and their programs will be affected. I know that there are many who think that this might be a blessing in disguise, but I don’t think that’s the case — subjecting all federally-funded science to more-or-less arbitrary cuts (and basically subjecting academic science to funding decimation) does not seem to be wise.

I think the case could be made for altering federal funding of R&D away from its human-health-first-and-foremost/keep-Granny-alive priority to something that focused more on the basic and less on the translational, and more on the long-term than the short-term. But that’s an argument for another time. Sequestration is big and random (as opposed to big and prioritized), and therefore undesired. The House of Representatives and the President should come to an agreement and sooner rather than later.*

*I know that’s a lame conclusion, but I do not love politics on this blog. The rest of the internet is better for that.

 

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