Physics Societies Call for Action to Avoid Automatic Federal Budget Cuts

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Publication date: 
24 August 2012

Unless  Congress and the Administration strike an agreement, automatic reductions of  approximately 8 to 9 percent will be made to the budgets of most federal programs  in early January 2013.  Mandated under  the Budget Control Act of 2011, this sequestration was intended to force policy  makers to reach an agreement to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion  within the next decade.  That effort, beginning  with a special congressional committee, failed. 

The  Budget Control Act matters.  The ultimate  threat of sequestration was intended to force a bipartisan congressional  committee to produce a plan to accomplish this deficit reduction goal that would  win approval by the House, Senate, and the President.  As described by the Office of Management and  Budget (OMB) in a July 31, 2012 memorandum, “sequestration is bad policy, [and]  was never meant to be implemented.” “If  allowed to occur, the sequestration would be highly destructive to national  security and domestic priorities, as well as to core government functions” OMB  warns. 

No  one on Capitol Hill favors sequestration, and there has been much speculation  about modifying the provisions of the Budget Control Act’s sequestration implementation  date or by exempting some federal programs.   The defense community has been active in voicing its concerns about what  could be as high as an 11.2 percent reduction in the budget for defense  programs if military personnel are exempted (as the law allows.)  In July, organizations opposed to any further  reductions in funding for non-defense discretionary programs sent a letter to  Members of Congress.  Signatories to this  letter  included the  following AIP Member Societies: American Association of Physics Teachers,  American Astronomical Society, and American Geophysical Union.

Earlier  this month, the Presidents of six of AIP’s Member Societies - American Physical  Society, The Optical Society, AVS, American Association of Physicists in  Medicine, American Association of Physics Teachers, and American  Crystallographic Association - and the Executive Director & CEO of the  American Institute of Physics, sent a letter to President Barack Obama, the  leadership of the House and Senate, and congressional appropriators.  The text of this letter follows:

  “Building  a better America requires pursuing a sound fiscal policy. It also means  strengthening the drivers of job creation and economic growth.

“There  is no doubt we must adopt practices that allow us to live within our means, but  we must do so without damaging the engine of our future prosperity. As the  Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission noted in December 2010, even as we  cut spending we must continue to ‘invest in education, infrastructure, and  high-value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally  competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs.’

“But  today those investments are seriously threatened by sequestrations mandated by  the Budget Control Act amendments of 2011 and scheduled to take effect on  January 2, 2013. A projected across-the-board reduction of 8-9 percent in those  accounts would jeopardize the fabric of science and technology that has been  responsible for more that 50 percent of American GDP growth since the end of  Second World War.

“As  leaders of professional societies representing more than 135,000 physical  scientists and educators in universities, companies, hospitals and national  laboratories, we are writing to urge you to resume consideration of a  comprehensive deficit reduction plan. A successful strategy must not only set  our nation on a long-term course of fiscal responsibility, but also promote  strong economic growth by sustaining the science and technology activities that  have long kept America innovative and competitive in the global marketplace.

“We  recognize that little time remains between now and the January 2, 2013 date of  reckoning. But the stakes are so high that the gridlock, which has hampered  progress on deficit reduction, must be broken now for the sake of future  generations.”

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