Federal sequestration imperils research funding

Estimated $1.2 trillion federal spending reduction may take effect January

Research funding at the University, already under strain, stands imperiled by looming federal budget cuts. Automatic cuts in federal spending to the tune of $1.2 trillion between 2013 and 2021 will take effect in January unless Congress can reach a bipartisan compromise on a deficit reduction plan.

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily last week, University President Teresa Sullivan said these cuts could harm University research funding. The University’s level of research funding was a major point of discussion following Sullivan’s ouster and reinstatement during the summer.

“A big issue will be what happens in the federal government,” Sullivan said. “If we go to sequestration in January, then everyone gets knocked down [in terms of research funding], but if we don’t go to sequestration, I would say we’ve got a pretty good shot [at improving research funding levels].”

A White House Office of Management and Budget report released Friday discloses details about how the impending federal budget cuts, known as a sequester, could impact research programs and financial aid at universities. The Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to low-income students, would be protected from cuts for the first year of budget cuts, said Jennifer Poulakidas, the vice president for congressional and governmental affairs for the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. Work-study programs and student financial aid programs that assist undergraduates, graduate students and middle and high schools in high-poverty areas, however, would be slashed by about 8 percent.

“The Pell program is protected in this first year of sequestration, but it’s completely up for grabs after that,” Poulakidas said.

Student financial aid would be cut by about $140 million but the report provided no details about which programs would be specifically targeted for cuts.

Poulakidas voiced alarm about the cuts because she said research funding boosted employment and strengthened the economy.

“If a particular institution received 500 million in research funding, you can estimate that … they’ll probably be hit with about a $45 million loss,” Poulakidas said. “We’re really adamant that further cuts to this part of the budget [do] us no good in economic growth.”

Universities and students across the country stand to feel the impact of cuts to both student financial aid and research grants.

Funding for the National Institutes of Health — a major contributor to medical research — would also be slashed nearly $2.53 billion, close to an 8.2 percent cut, according to the report. The National Science Foundation faces more than $460 million in cuts, which also amounts to a budget reduction of 8.2 percent. A number of other science, technology and research-oriented federal agencies will have their budgets diminished.

Congress will likely wait until after the election to act on these potential cuts, said Kyle Kondik, University Center for Politics spokesperson.

“I think this is something that is just going to get hashed out in the so-called lame duck period,” he said. “The defense portion of it is a hot topic across the country [and is] more important [in Virginia] because we have so much federal government and military spending.”

Sullivan said the University hoped for a congressional compromise to avoid the potential financial problems created by federal budget cuts.

“Sequestration, if nothing else happens … will be [a] dramatic slashing of both domestic and defense spending,” Sullivan said. “So it really lies with Congress whether that’s avoided.”

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