Looming cuts to federal budget could affect UT’s research competitiveness

Barak Bullock

Looming cuts to the federal budget, also known as sequestration, could endanger research funding at UT and other universities across the nation.

Sequestration would cut federal spending by 8 to 10 percent across the board, which could take out $60 billion federal research over the next four years.

The cuts were originally meant to take place last January as a part of the collective tax increases and spending cuts that made up the “fiscal cliff,” but were delayed until March 1.

According to UT professor Alan Lambowitz, director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Congress’ failure to prevent the sequester could be a substantial blow the available funds of federal agencies which awarded more than $154 million to UT researchers in 2011. 

“An immediate effect is that many National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation research grants that have already been reviewed and received high priority scores will no longer be funded,” Lambowitz said.

Additionally, Lambowitz said the funding of existing research projects would also be cut.

Now, groups such as the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Science Coalition are urging Congress to stop the sequester. The groups argue that cuts to research would set the nation back in innovation and advancement. 

The three organizations have collaborated to create ScienceWorksForU.S., an outreach project focused on demonstrating “the tremendous impact that federally funded university-based scientific research has on the nation and on the lives of all Americans,” according to the joint organizations.

In addition to halting promising research, researchers also argue the sequester would harm the nation by arresting the opportunities for students to engage in research.

“These cuts are not just a retreat from our nation’s cutting-edge research programs — they would directly impact opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to prepare for careers as the high tech innovators our nation needs to prosper,” said Laurie Leshin, a former NASA scientist and dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in a statement. 

“Such a cut would have a very negative impact on UT’s research activities” Juan Sanchez, UT’s vice president for research, said. “There will be less opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to participate in funded research projects. With regard to science and technology, it is obvious that U.S. competitiveness will suffer at a time when other nations, especially in the Pacific, are aggressively increasing their R&D investments.”

In addition to slowing down research, opportunities for university students would also be adversely affected, according to William Shute, vice chancellor for federal relations at the UT System.

“Unfortunately it will impact UT through the Pell Grant program, work-study and some financial aid … The programs would not be available to a significant number of students,” he said.

Published on February 18, 2013 as "Decreased funding to affect many universities".