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The Looming Cliff

Congress and the Obama Administration remain in negotiations to find a solution to the nation’s budget woes to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts at the beginning of 2013. Known as the “sequester,” automatic, across-the-board reductions of $1.2 trillion from 2013 to 2021 were put into place by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 as an unappealing contingency in case Congress was unable to pass a sweeping deficit reduction plan. With no agreement in sight, agencies are bracing for these cuts to begin on 2 January 2013.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a nearly 400-page report outlining the impacts of sequestration. According to the report, defense programs would decline by 9.4%, while nondefense programs would decline by 8.2%. Under this analysis, NSF would be cut by more than $500 million in the first year of the sequester. AAAS has released a brief titled Federal R&D and Sequestration in the First Five Years. This analysis, which provides estimates of cuts for agencies and states, finds that the sequester would cause USGS to lose $253 million in R&D funding over 5 years. Overall, it finds sequestration would slash federal investment in research and development by an estimated $57 billion between now and 2017.

With support from GSA through the Task Force on American Innovation, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report on sequestration’s impacts on innovation. Eroding Our Foundation: Sequestration, R&D, Innovation and U.S. Economic Growth found that declines in R&D spending from sequestration will reduce GDP by “at least $203 billion and up to $860 billion over the nine-year period… and result in job losses of approximately 200,000.”

GSA is continuing to work with policymakers to emphasize the importance of geoscience research and the effect these large cuts would have on it. GSA recently signed a multi-organization letter on the importance of federal research and development (R&D) and the impact that the sequester would have on the future of the U.S. research enterprise and our capacity to remain a competitive nation.

There are several ways GSA members can reach out to policymakers on this important issue. We encourage GSA members to communicate with policymakers, and GSA has previously encouraged Members of Congress and the Administration to reach a balanced solution to the fiscal crisis while providing for predictable and sustained support for federally supported scientific research, which is critical to our nation’s future innovation and competitiveness. Several resources are available to assist with outreach efforts.

Stand with Science is an effort founded by a group of concerned graduate students to give graduate and professional students in science and engineering, young researchers, and anyone passionate about supporting science and engineering research the knowledge, tools, and inspiration they need to become advocates for society’s investment in the innovations – and innovators – of tomorrow. Stand with Science has launched a website and sign-on letter for scientists to show their support.

AGI has launched a sequestration resources page with background information as well as templates for congressional letters and letters to the editor.
AAAS has also created a sequestration web page and is asking for submission highlighting the importance of federal funding to your work and what would be lost if our leaders do not reach a bipartisan resolution to the budget impasse. They will then submit this information to policymakers.

Kasey White
GSA’s Director for Geoscience Policy