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Impact of impending US budget cut on science revealed

A long-anticipated analysis of an obligatory across-the-board cut to the US government’s budget reveals the devastating  impact the cut would have on federal science agencies.

Congressional lawmakers inserted the sweeping cut, known as the ‘sequester’, into legislation that raised the government’s debt ceiling deal last year so that it would act as a negative incentive.  Its deep proposed cuts in both defence and non-defence spending were set to kick in in January 2013 — but only if Congress failed to agree on how to lower the US deficit. Now, with efforts to reach agreement long abandoned and the cuts looming,  the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released  a document on 14 September that describes the projected carnage across federal departments, including those that fund science.

“Today’s OMB report confirms the worst,” said Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, in a statement. “A budget sequester in January would have a terrible short- and long-term impact on the nation’s investments in scientific research and education.”

While neither side of Congress wants this mixture of cuts to actually take place, no one believes that politicians can negotiate a better deal until after November’s election. By that point, they will have a scant few weeks to figure out a better plan. As Nature reported in July, agencies anticipate post-election panic.

The 394-page OMB report shows broad cuts, with small portions of various agencies’ budgets exempt. Nature’s analysis of 2013 budget requests showed a comparatively rosier picture.

Cuts in defence function spending are set at US$54.7 billion, or 9.4%

Cuts in non-defence spending at the agencies are 8.2%. Amounts of the largest or most relevant budgets within agencies are listed below.

  • The National Institutes of Health, which has the largest science-spending budget, would lose $2.5 billion of authorized spending.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would lose $464 million for agency-wide non-defence programme activities and support.
  • The Food and Drug Administration would lose $318 million of salaries and expenses, among other cuts.
  • The National Science Foundation would lose $463 million for research and related activities among other cuts.
  • NASA would lose $417 million from its science budget, $346 for space operations, $309 for exploration and $246 for cross-agency support, among other cuts.
  • The US Department of Energy would lose $400 million of its science account.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $257 million of its operations, research and facilities account.
  • The US Geological Survey for investigations, surveys and research would fall $88 million.
  • The section of the Environmental Protection Agency charged with funding science and technology would lose $65 million.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology would lose $62 million of its funds for research and services, construction of research facilities and industrial technology services.

Update: This blog post previously overstated cuts in the NSF’s  Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget. Should the cuts go into place, they will be $14 million.


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