Week in Review, or Like Ducks Talking to Chickens
The holiday week started early for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which announced on Monday after three months of discussions that they had failed to reach a deficit reduction deal as required in the Budget Control Act. The Committee technically had until Wednesday to unveil its results, but the co-chairs admitted formally on Monday that they were unable to reach an agreement on the makeup of $1.2 trillion in cuts to government spending to avoid “sequestration.” Throughout the discussions, Democrats and Republicans stuck to their own party’s talking points and, much like ducks talking to chickens, never reached common ground. The failure to reach a deal is of great concern to research organizations, since sequestration could result in significant cuts to discretionary spending that supports research. A summary released by Senate Majority Leader Reid’s (D-NV) office on Monday estimated that non-defense discretionary spending would face a 5.5% to 7.8% cut annually over the next ten years, while defense discretionary spending would face a 8.5% to 10% cut annually.
Sequestration wouldn’t kick in until January 2013, which means that some members of Congress are contemplating ways to “fix” the situation to avoid significant cuts. Of particular concern are the effects that defense discretionary spending cuts would have on the military, especially as Secretary Panetta has threatened that “If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense.” If Congressional efforts to avoid sequestration focus disproportionately on defense spending, this could put additional pressure on non-defense discretionary spending, where most research support is drawn from.
Also of Note
Immigration. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with several scientific societies, industry and university associations penned a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, asking them to reform the employment-visa system for highly skilled workers. Their letter asserts that “Students who earn Master’s or Ph.D. degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from American universities are sought after by employers all over the world because they are job creators. They have the skills and talents to innovate, expand, and prosper.”
Detailed estimates of the effects of sequestration on research agencies will likely emerge in the coming weeks, but GenomeWeb Daily reported on what the cuts might mean for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF): “Such a cut at NIH would mean the agency would be able to provide about 2,500 to 2,700 fewer research project grants per year. It also would mean a per-year cut of $530 million at NSF, which would translate to a cut of $430 million for research grants. At that level, NSF would be able to fund around 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting roughly 18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than it did in fiscal year 2011.”
In a Forbes editorial, Henry Miller responded to recent calls by Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, to reorganize the NIH. Miller says of Crow’s proposal to reorganize the 27 institutes into three that “his cure surely would be worse than the disease.”
What’s on Deck
- The American Chemical Society will hold a luncheon briefing in the Capitol Visitors Center (SVC 209-08) on Critical Materials Shortages, Opportunity for Competitive Innovation. Contact science_congress (at) acs.org for event details.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Subcommittee, will hold a hearing on Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, will hold a hearing on Stimulus Oversight: An Update on Accountability, Transparency, and Performance.