Senior Appropriator Warns About Impacts of Automatic Funding Cuts

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Publication date: 
19 October 2011

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“At this level, NSF would  fund nearly 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately  18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than it did  in FY 2011.” – House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks

About a month from now, a  special congressional “super committee” is charged with delivering a plan to  Congress that would trim the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion during  the next decade.  If the committee is  unable to agree upon a plan, or if Congress refuses to adopt it, the budget deal  worked out by Congress and the Obama Administration this summer calls for  automatic funding cuts.  The top-ranking  Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee has outlined the projected  impacts of these automatic cuts. 

In his October 14, 2011  letter  to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Norm Dicks (D-WA) warned  the:

“Committee . . . must find a  way to overcome partisan differences, agree on a balanced approach to long-term  deficit reduction, focus on economic growth and job creation, and do no harm to  the faltering economic recovery in the short-run.  If you fail, dire consequences will await our  nation.”

Dicks cites estimates by the  widely-respected Congressional Budget Office that the enforcement provisions in  the Budget Control Act would reduce discretionary funding for nondefense  programs by 7.8 percent in Fiscal Year 2013.   Discretionary funding for defense programs would be reduced by 10.0  percent.  If President Obama decides to  exempt military personnel from the cut, the projected reduction in funding for  other defense programs would total 13 percent.   All these cuts would automatically occur in January 2013. 

Dick’s eleven-page letter  outlines the projected impacts of these budget cuts on various programs,  selections of which follow:

Health, Science, and Innovation:

“About 2,500-2,700 fewer  National Institute of Health research grants would be made to universities and  institutes throughout the country for research into the causes and treatments  of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy.”

“Funding cuts would cripple  NASA’s efforts to establish U.S. commercial capability to transport American  astronauts to the International Space Station.   These cuts would effectively extend the period of U.S. dependence on  Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft for these flights, now that the space shuttle  has been retired.  Thus, the cut would  not be a true savings, as the U.S. would need to pay Russia for additional  Soyuz flights, at a cost of at least $63 million per seat.”

“Funding for the National Science  Foundation would be cut by approximately $530 million compared to FY 2011,  including a cut of $430 million from research grants and $67 million from STEM  education programs.  At this level, NSF  would fund nearly 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting  approximately 18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support  personnel than it did in FY 2011.”

Public Safety:

“Funding cuts would  significantly impact the National Weather Service’s forecasting  capability.  Cuts to NOAA weather  satellite development would result in a 2- to 4-year period in which weather  data from NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellite would be unavailable, putting  American communities at greater risk from tornadoes, hurricanes, and other  major weather events.”


“Research, Development, Test  and Evaluation accounts would also be cut by 13% . . . . “

“The National Nuclear Safety  [Security] Administration (NNSA) would also be subject to the more substantial  defense reduction.  Under sequestration,  NNSA weapons activities would no longer have the budgetary resources to support  the Nuclear Posture Review and New START implementation.  NNSA would not have the resources to maintain  a level of Emergency Readiness commensurate with threat conditions and would be  unable to operate and respond in the current concept of operations timelines,  adding significant risk to the first responders and public’s safety in the  event of a radiological or nuclear incident.”

“Defense nuclear  nonproliferation efforts would also be constrained.  NNSA would not have the resources to achieve  a four-year lockdown of vulnerable nuclear material, leaving materials vulnerable  to terrorist theft and undermining our national security.”

The chairman of the House  Appropriations Committee did not release a similar letter.