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Effects Of Sequestration Still Unclear

Deficit Reduction: Federal agencies, researchers grapple with ill-defined cuts

by Government & Policy Department
March 7, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 10

Credit: Newscom
Congress is now finalizing the 2013 budget to avoid a government shutdown later this month.
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen shrouded in clouds as a wintry mix of snow and rain falls on March 6, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Newscom
Congress is now finalizing the 2013 budget to avoid a government shutdown later this month.

Across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, may have kicked in on March 1, but government agencies are still trying to understand just what the mandatory cuts of roughly 9 to 13% will mean for operations and employees. Compounding the uncertainty, Congress has yet to finalize a 2013 budget, which could lead to a government shutdown later this month if lawmakers don’t find a way to continue funding operations.

At C&EN’s press time, intense efforts were under way by the White House and legislators on Capitol Hill to both pass a 2013 budget and give agencies maximum flexibility to implement sequester-driven cuts.

Agencies likely don’t yet know exactly how big of a hit individual programs will take, says Matthew S. Platz, who stepped down as head of NSF’s Chemistry Division last year to become a vice chancellor at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. “Everyone knows it is going to be bad, they just don’t know how bad,” he says.

A sampling of budgetary impacts shows frustration as federal officials try to set priorities. At the Army Research Lab, in Maryland, scientists and staff are already starting to feel the pain, says Todd E. Rosenberger, associate director for plans and programs. The immediate concern is furloughs. Of the lab’s approximately 2,500 employees, 2,000 are civilians who will be subject to one-day-per-week furloughs starting on April 22, resulting in a 20% pay reduction.

At the Department of Energy, the cuts will affect a variety of programs in the Office of Science, according to Director William F. Brinkman. He testified last week before the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water and warned that DOE faces a “unique and challenging time during this period of intense budget uncertainty.”

To try to get a handle on what the sequester means for chemical professionals and their employers, the American Chemical Society has set up an online member questionnaire at

“ACS has launched a survey of its members to see how sequestration is affecting them and the chemistry enterprise,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of the ACS Office of Public Affairs. “We plan to use the data in our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and with the Administration to deliver the message that investment in science is critical to economic growth and job creation.”

As worries build, arguments continue on Capitol Hill about ways to deal with the deep cuts and the lack of a budget for the current fiscal year. President Barack Obama wants more tax revenue to offset the cuts. But Republicans accuse the Administration of exaggerating the sequestration’s effects to pressure them into closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions for corporations and wealthy Americans.



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