05 January 2013

Averting The Fiscal Cliff May Still Reduce US Scientific Research Funding

An article on the Science website discusses how avoiding the fiscal cliff through a compromise deal may still reduce funding for scientific research.

A week ago, the United States averted what they termed, a fiscal cliff. The premise of the fiscal cliff is that expiring tax cuts and decreased government spending would affect the U.S. economy and lead the country into recession.

A compromise deal was reached by both Republicans and Democrats to extend the tax cuts and delay government spending cuts. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress on January 1, 2013. Some of the tax cuts which were supposed to expire were made permanent while tax rates at upper income levels were increased.

The reduction of the federal budget was delayed without any specifics mentioned. It would be discussed and negotiated in two months time.

The deductions that the fiscal cliff would have brought about would affect the U.S. scientific community as well. U.S. science based funding programs would fall 8.9%. It is estimated that it would have resulted in the loss of 2500 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and 1500 National Science Foundation (NSF) grants in 2013 alone.

But despite avoiding the fiscal cliff, the scientific research community is still in jeopardy. Since the spending part of the "cliff" has not been ironed out, it is unclear if these cuts can be averted or they are just delayed until the U.S. Congress decides to push forward with the spending cuts.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it wants to protect research, but the decision on which programs to cut is left up to Congress. There is likely to be fierce fighting over how to allocate the reductions, and Republicans in the House of Representatives are also likely to push for additional spending cuts.

Video: Impact of the Fiscal Cliff on Scientific Research

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" Approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

The NIH largest source of funding for medical research in the world. It is made up of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems. NIH leadership plays an active role in shaping the agency's research planning, activities, and outlook.

The new legislation pushes back the start of sequestration until 1 March. As before, it also allows Congress to avoid sequestration entirely if it can find another way to shrink spending by that amount.


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