Sequestration Could Mean Deep Funding Cuts for Biomedical Research

Contributor
Graduate Division

UCSF has long benefited from recruiting some of the best and brightest minds in science to carry out cutting-edge biomedical research. We owe our success largely to the abundant federal funding that individual Principal Investigators (PIs) bring in.

Over the past decade, however, the budget of the National Institutes of Health has not increased in real terms, and the buying power of research dollars has declined by 20 percent due to inflation. Additionally, the success rate for a typical extramural NIH grant was at a historic low in 2012, at around 18 percent, according to the NIH.  The difficulty in securing independent academic faculty positions and research funding has been discouraging those in training from pursuing academic careers in science. 

This already unpromising situation may soon be compounded by an impending, across-the-board governmental budget cut known as sequestration, which is set to go into effect on March 1. The sequestration mechanism was put in place by Congress as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (or debt-ceiling deal), as a last resort. It was not originally intended to be implemented.

However, as Congress has struggled to reach a compromise on the budget, sequestration is rapidly becoming a reality. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, recently stated that he expects sequestration to take place, and the White House Office of Management and Budget released a memo to federal agencies, including the NIH, instructing them to intensify their planning for sequestration. 

What would be the immediate consequences of sequestration? Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, has stated that, under sequestration, the NIH would face a 25 percent reduction of extramural grants in 2013.

Fewer grants mean that PIs will have to start making difficult decisions, not only in prioritizing their research programs but also in managing their laboratory personnel.

Even though sequestration has not yet taken place, budget constraints are already being felt by current and future PIs whose federal grants are under consideration. Given the prevailing fiscal uncertainty, the NIH has been delaying approval of reviewed grants for funding.

Is sequestration unavoidable? No. Congress still has time to negotiate a budget. Now is the time for scientists, one of the groups perhaps least represented before Congress, to become our own advocates, to try to protect biomedical research funding. One way we can advocate for science research funding is by writing to our representatives.

Other ways can be found at researchamerica.org, saveresearch.org and aaas.org. If you are interested in getting involved with advocacy at UCSF, please follow the UCSF Science Policy Group page on Facebook to hear about our upcoming first meeting (date to be determined).

The UCSF Science Policy Group is a recently formed registered campus organization dedicated to educating our students and postdocs about science policy issues, ranging from science education to advocacy to public outreach. Please send inquiries to UCSFSciencePolicyGroup@gmail.com. If you want to take action immediately, an easy starting place is the FASEB form found at: http://capwiz.com/faseb/issues/alert/?alertid=62385281.