Sequestration. It’s a dirty word for anyone whose job or paycheck relies on Federal funding. Scientists are particularly vulnerable because research plans tend to extend beyond just a few months. Often federal grant money is spent early in the funding period and a sudden budget cut could mean personnel cuts. The Budget Control Act of 2011 hoped to reduce the deficit by $1.2-$1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years. As an insurance policy, the act included sequestration; meaning, should the committee fail to make a plan, a drastic, across the board cut would be enacted January 1, 2013.
So far, the committee has been unsuccessful in devising a plan to reduce the deficit. After the November election, Congress has been in a flurry trying to formulate a plan both parties support and get it approved in time.
In the meantime, everyone who relies on government funding is waiting and watching. These cuts would mean drastic cuts in current NIH grants to scientists including intramural researchers (to the tune of $2.8 billion). It would also mean that NIH would fund 25% fewer grants in the upcoming cycles. The NSF budget would be cut by $600 million. The scientific enterprise would be halted in its tracks and labs would have to close. While these drastic cuts could cut the deficit over ten years, these blows to scientific research and the economy could be devastating. Scientists and supporters of scientific research should contact their Senators and representatives and let them know how critical scientific research can be for local and state economies.
FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) has provided information about sequestration and its impact on research. There are also factsheets detailing the impact on local economies across the country.
Personally, I think this “fiscal cliff” is just a way for the lawmakers to come off looking like heroes when they avert the crisis. They must think we have forgotten how we ended up on the cliff in the first place.