A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: After sequestration, will research be protected in the budget battles?

Dear Research Advocate,

To say that the attention paid to sequestration is extraordinary is to understate the case, but there has not been enough public outcry to force meaningful congressional action. It is highly unlikely that a rabbit will be pulled out of a hat between now and 11:59 p.m. tomorrow night. Damage will be done, and meanwhile the political playing field switches to a new month and new, related and ever-deepening crises. Possibly the only good news is that the media has ratcheted up coverage of the impact of sequestration on medical research, with stories about “cuts on top of cuts on top of cuts,” in the words of Eric Hoffman of Children’s National Medical Center, one of many who have spoken out. Former NIH Director and Research!America Board member Dr. Elias Zerhouni of Sanofi described sequestration as “impact[ing] science for generations to come.” FASEB, among many groups working to keep the story alive, has released state data, detailing NIH grant funding cuts that amount to more than $1.2 billion in lost research dollars. The Baltimore Sun recently ran a story highlighting how cuts may drive researchers overseas, with quotes from Research!America Board member and Nobel laureate Dr. Carol Grieder. Concern about global competitiveness is confirmed by a new Research!America poll of small business leaders, with other findings of note including two-thirds saying that federally funded basic research is important to private sector innovation. We have seen unprecedented attention to this data on Facebook, generating nearly 4,000 views in just one day. Write your representatives and use the poll data to convey the strong base of support for research — and the importance of making it a priority.

All advocates must be on alert for the budget battles of March, including funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30, as well as the first salvos of the next fiscal year budget (2014). Three budgets will be presented – president, House and Senate. The questions are: Will the impact of sequestration be blunted during budget negotiations, and will research for health be a priority? We must all continue to work for that outcome, as individuals and as a community.

A Financial Times op-ed by Research!America member and MIT President Dr. Rafael Reif and Craig Barrett, former chairman of Intel, provides a concise and articulate summary of the consequences of cutting science — or, said another way, failing to prioritize it. They point out that the U.S. has an economic growth problem. They underscore the importance of investing in research and innovation as the way to reverse the downward trajectory of U.S. ranking in terms of R&D as a percentage of GDP among OECD countries and to return us to the level of national prosperity that thrives on the transformational ideas of young scientists. Other countries are using our playbook for economic growth; why aren’t we?

The NIH has released an operating plan should sequestration take effect. For the remainder of the current fiscal year, the NIH will likely reduce funding levels for continuing grants and will make fewer competing awards. All Institutes and Centers will be subject to a budget reduction, with each institute or center director having discretion over which programs to prioritize. The NSF has also released a statement; the agency will reduce the number of new grants in FY13 by 1,000 due to sequestration. All continuing FY13 grants will be awarded and existing grants will not be reduced.

Lastly, we mourn the loss of Research!America’s Honorary Director Dr. C. Everett Koop, a charismatic Surgeon General who forcefully called attention to our nation’s major health threats. He was a magnificent champion of research. His legacy is second to none. Read our statement here.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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