Federal sequestration hits home for university researchers

Excerpt of an article published by the South Bend Tribune on the devastating effects of mandatory federal budget cuts to university researchers, especially at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend.

Professors at research institutions across the country are wondering which of their projects will be reduced in scope or eliminated as a result of the mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which took effect March 1.

Among those wondering and worrying are researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend.

Some already have gotten word that grants they sought won’t be funded because of the federal cuts.

Sequestration “isn’t like a cliff. It’s going to happen relatively slowly over a two- or three-year period,” said Robert Bernhard, Notre Dame’s vice president for research.

Notre Dame’s research expenditures from external sources in fiscal year 2012 were about $104 million, with $83 million coming from federal dollars.

The university’s research spending from external sources for fiscal year 2013 (which ended June 30) isn’t available yet. “But it’s going to be down,” Bernhard said, probably to around $100 million.

In addition, Notre Dame spends about $40 million of its own money a year on research. That figure likely will decline, too, he said.

A big disappointment concerned a $46 million federal grant request led by Notre Dame researchers for a nuclear astrophysics experiment facility in South Dakota. The project was canceled because of lack of funding as a consequence of sequestration.

“That was a huge blow. That would have been a big breakthrough for the university to go to another level,” Bernhard said.

The grant funding process works like this: Researchers submit proposals and requests for funding, which are reviewed by a panel of peers and assigned scores. The various federal agencies, based on their approved budgets, award grants to the top projects.

With sequestration, there is less money for grants, so fewer proposals are being funded.

Read the full article here.

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