Sequestration would hit MU research funding hard

Dec 4, 2012

Sequestration, or the automatic across-the-board funding cuts set to kick in nationwide at the beginning of 2013, will tally nearly $110 billion dollars in cuts over the next nine years. The cuts are meant to alleviate the trillion dollar deficit. Congressional Republicans and Democrats are currently facing a stalemate on a solution to the severe fiscal cuts sequestration calls for while still fixing the deficit. KBIA’s Kristofor Husted reports that millions of dollars are at stake for the University of Missouri System.

If Congress does not act, sequestration will cut 8.4 percent of funding for non-defense discretionary programs starting next year.

That means the University of Missouri System is at risk of losing more than $25 million dollars of federal funding, according to a report from the system’s Government Relations Office. The cuts would take chunks out of funds for student aid and Medicare, and biggest slice would come out of university research.

Rob Duncan is the vice chancellor for research on MU’s Columbia campus and he says about $17 million dollars of federally supported research sits on the chopping block at the Columbia flagship alone. That’s about 10 percent of the university’s federal funding for research.  The whole University of Missouri System stands to lose about $23 million dollars in research funding.

“It’s a lot. It’s substantial. It’s not certain what exactly that impact would be because a lot of it would depend upon how the agencies that fund us from the federal government decide to make up that reduction in their budget,” Duncan said.

Many university researchers receive federal grants for their projects through agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Should sequestration happen, these agencies will most likely not receive the same amount of federal money they have been collecting in the past. In turn, the agencies may be forced to limit the number of research grants awarded, cap the price tag on those grants or even halt funding certain research projects all together. Duncan says other funding opportunities are available, though.

“Fortunately in many cases, there will be opportunities to shift to other funding modalities other than the federal. But that’s a problematic argument in the sense that as the federal investment slows down, ultimately all investment slows down. So it’s something that if it occurs, we’ll definitely have to adapt to,” Duncan said.

Another looming cut would be a $750,000 reduction in student aid grants for programs like work-study. And Medicare payments are at risk too, but cuts are capped at 2 percent because the government considers it an entitlement program. In fact, Duncan says that’s a big reason why we’re in this funding crisis to begin with.

“There’s been rampant growth in the entitlement programs, such as Medicare, over the last decade. And with the federal government having to address that growth, they’re in a position where they have to decrease their spending in many other ways like on discretionary non-defense and discretionary defense,” Duncan said.

About half of the money scheduled to be saved with sequestration comes from deep defense cuts, something Congressional Republicans and Democrats have said they want to avoid. Both U.S. Senators from Missouri say they want to avoid wheeling off the so-called fiscal cliff, but no compromise has been reached yet.