If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Looming Federal Budget Cuts

Deficit: Report warns of destructive effects of sequestration, but lacks specifics

by Andrea Widener , Susan R. Morrissey
September 20, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 39

All federal R&D programs can expect a cut of 8.2%—or 9.4% for defense-related research—on Jan. 2, 2013, if Congress and the White House can’t develop an alternative plan to reduce the federal budget deficit. That’s the message of a congressionally mandated report from the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) on the impact of the $109.3 billion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration.

“The report leaves no question that the sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions,” OMB writes in the report’s introduction. Sequestration, OMB adds, “is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

The Obama Administration is drawing fire from Congress for missing its deadline by a week and for not providing enough specifics of sequestration’s effects at the program, project, and activity levels.

“This report claims that more time is needed to provide these necessary details—but that is principally because the Administration has deliberately refused to plan for sequestration for an entire year,” according to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly A. Ayotte (R-N.H.). “This disappointing report provides virtually no new information.”

Despite the lack of specificity, the impacts on science are clear. “Harsh cuts take this country in the wrong direction,” says Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). “If anything, we need to expand investments in R&D and strengthen science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education so we can remain a world leader in science and technology innovation.”

At NSF, OMB reports, the Research & Related Activities account will face a reduction of 8.2%; however, a small amount of defense-related work will be cut at the 9.4% level. OMB calculates the total reduction to this account to be $469 million.

NIH will face a nearly across-the-board budget cut of 8.2%. In all, some $2.5 billion could be trimmed from the agency’s 2012 budget of $30.8 billion.

At the Department of Energy, OMB reports, the Office of Science will take a $400 million hit, with the vast majority of its $4.9 billion budget subject to an 8.2% cut. The budget of DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which includes the nation’s nuclear weapons labs, will be reduced at the 9.4% rate for defense-related programs.

The report “laid out in pretty bare terms what is at stake,” says Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget & Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “But I’m not sure it really changes what we knew before, which is that we are up against massive cuts.”

Sequestration is the result of a law Congress passed in 2011 to rein in the federal deficit. The law set up a congressional supercommittee tasked with coming up with a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. When that group failed, the deliberately blunt and indiscriminate sequestration provisions were put in place.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.