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US science leadership at risk from cuts, warns House appropriator

The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee is warning about the effect of the R&D funding reductions expected if automatic budget cuts are triggered on 2 January, as prescribed by last year’s Budget Control Act.

A 15-page report released on 9 October by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, argued that Congress should agree to a more sensible approach to deficit reduction, and stop the automatic budget cuts—known as sequestration—from going into effect.

In his report, the lawmaker estimated that the National Institutes of Health would lose about $2.5 billion from the sequestration, which he said would translate to about 2,400 fewer research project grants for research universities and other grantee institutions.

In addition, he said funding for the National Science Foundation would be cut by about $580 million compared to fiscal year 2012, including a reduction of $471m in research grants and $68m in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education programmes.

At this level, Dicks said, NSF would fund 1,600 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately 19,300 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than in FY2012.

The lawmaker described how the Department of Energy, NASA and other science agencies would be harmed by the sequestration. He said the across-the-board cuts would slash $423m from DOE’s Office of Science and its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“Federally supported basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge and new products,” Dicks wrote. “This cut would significantly curtail fundamental research in areas of science that are a key to our nation’s prosperity and to preserving America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.”

He said that the sequestration’s funding reductions would also “cripple” NASA’s efforts to establish US commercial capability to transport US astronauts to the International Space Station. This would extend the period of US dependence on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft for these flights, Dicks wrote, cautioning that the cuts would not represent a true savings since the US would need to pay Russia at least $63m per seat for additional Soyuz flights.