Cuts of concern
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The US Playbook is back from its Easter break and ready to analyse some research budgets. Let’s get to it.
Federal agencies that support research and innovation are alarmed over proposals by lawmakers in the House of Representatives to significantly reduce their 2024 fiscal year budget appropriations to 2022 levels. They are warning of potential layoffs, project scale-backs and reductions in grant awards.
The agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Department of State and the National Science Foundation, have written to RosaDeLauro, ranking chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, detailing the possible effects.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the conditions that Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the House, negotiated during his bid for the position was a return to 2022fiscal year levels for discretionary spending, in order to help tackle federal deficits.
“The closest we’ve come to a comparable threat of dramatic cuts to defence and non-defence discretionary spending would be the original Budget Control Act of 2011,” Joanne Padrón Carney, chief government relations officer at the AAAS, told Playbook.
That act aimed to cut discretionary spending by an estimated $2trillion during the 2013 to 2021 fiscal years. Legislators later reached deals to raise spending above capped levels, though the AAAS still estimates that without the capping there would have been $240 billion extra growth in R&D spending.
“Imagine how further ahead we could have been in the global competition of disciplines such as artificial intelligence or quantum information science,” Carney said, noting that the “lost” growth meant fewer grants were awarded, there were delays in starting new programmes and there were fewer opportunities.
For the 2024 fiscal year, the AAAS says it is “not yet clear” how any cuts would end up being implemented, but departments and agencies have already conducted analyses and come up with preliminary scenarios.
The Department of Energy calculated that an across-the-board capon discretionary spending at 2022 levels would lead to “hundreds” of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and two or three large infrastructure projects at national labs being paused or cancelled.
There would be up to 1,000 layoffs within labs, partner organisations and in the local construction and support workforce in the US, it said, which would “negatively impact the ability of the national laboratories to continue to advance cutting-edge research”.
The National Science Foundation, meanwhile, calculated that a reduction of its 2023 budget to the same level as in the 2022 fiscal year would result in it making about 2,200 fewer awards and being able to support 31,000 fewer researchers, students and others.
Reductions in funding from the 2023 level would “limit the agency’s ability to continue to support and scale important fundamental research in all areas of science, engineering and Stem education” and “hamstring efforts” to advance work required by the US Chips and Science Act, which aims to advance research and manufacturing of semiconductors, it said.
Startups working on innovative projects could also be affected. The Small Business Administration, which funds an entrepreneurial development programme, estimated that up to 125,000 fewer entrepreneurs and small businesses would have access to free business counselling.
The scenario would have a “significant impact on the agency’s ability to ensure that underserved communities such as veterans, women and Native American entrepreneurs receive the support they deserve”, it said.
Reduced global health security
The Department of State and the US Agency for International Development noted that flat resources at 2022 levels would “undermine” their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.
Cuts to US global health security programmes would mean fewer resources for relevant capacity building and would prevent the Department of State from meeting a pledge by president Joe Biden’s administration to accelerate efforts to combat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria without making “difficult resource trade-offs”.
‘Vocal and vigilant’
People working in research advocacy organisations are sceptical that cuts of such magnitude would be implemented but have warned of a need to raise awareness and communicate to make sure there is an understanding of the seriousness of this approach.
“We do not believe Congress will go as far as returning to FY22 funding levels, but if advocates are not vocal and vigilant, that possibility could become a reality,” Ellie Dehoney, senior vice-president of policy and advocacy at Research!America, told Playbook.
According to the AAAS, both the Democrat and Republican parties are focused on reducing the deficit for 2024, which is one of the administrative priorities highlighted in Biden’s budget request.
The Biden administration has called for a $2.9tn cut in federal deficits over the next decade, relative to current arrangements. If the administration’s plans are enacted, deficits would total $17.1tn over the next 10 years, compared with $19.9tn projected under current arrangements.
The parties’ approaches, however, might not be the same. “Any dramatic cuts that pass the Republican majority in the House will be dead on arrival for Senate Democrats,” said Carney, who added that she does not expect Congress to be able to agree a budget.