Future of US Scientific Research Unclear After Fiscal Cliff
In a recent news article on the website, Science, it was pointed out that the bill to avert the fiscal cliff helped save major budget cuts in US government funded scientific research. But until the federal budget is finalized, government financed science research remains in jeopardy.
Two US federal agencies responsible for funding scientific research are the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH alone is the biggest largest source of funding for medical research in the world, with 80% of its budget going to more than 300,000 research personnel at over 2,500 universities and research institutions.
Like most U.S. federal agencies, the NSF and NIH were facing budget cuts because of last year's fiscal cliff. The deductions would have reduced U.S. science based funding programs by 8.9%. It is estimated that it would have resulted in the loss of 2500 NIH grants and 1500 NSF grants just for 2013 alone.
Despite the bill approved by the US Congress averting this scenario, funding for science research still hangs in the balance. The bill, The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8), primarily focused only on the tax cuts. The reduction of government spending (which affects research) was not finalized and the bill only moved the start of spending cuts to March 01.
Before March, Congress can still discuss and negotiate the specifics of the spending cuts. Prior to H.R. 8, the proposed reduction in government spending was $1.2 trillion dollars spread over ten years. The new revised figure was brought down to US$ 1.176 trillion.
It's clear that there will still be a reduction in government spending, and science agencies like the NIH, NSF and even NASA still have to compete with other federal agencies as well as with each other to protect their funding. They also have to convince Congress on the value of investing in scientific research.
President Obama was vocal in his support of research funding and even warned Republicans that, "we can't keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy.".