The White House is warning that several thousand researchers could lose their jobs and up to 12,000 scientists and students would also be affected, unless Congress acts by 1 March to prevent a series of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester.
In a fact sheet released on 8 February, the White House said the National Institutes of Health would be forced to delay or halt vital medical research projects and make hundreds of fewer research awards if the sequester is triggered.
“Since each research award supports up to seven research positions, several thousand personnel could lose their jobs,” the Obama administration said. “Many projects would be difficult to pursue at reduced levels and would need to be cancelled, putting prior year investments at risk.”
The White House estimated that the National Science Foundation would be forced to award nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards under the cuts, impacting on about 12,000 scientists and students and curtailing critical research.
According to the fact sheet, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research would face impediments in translating new science and technology into regulatory policy and decision-making, resulting in delays in drug approvals.
“The FDA would likely also need to reduce operational support for meeting review performance goals, such as the recently negotiated user fee goals on new innovative prescription drugs and medical devices,” the White House added.
President Obama wants to avoid the “harmful effects” of a sequester and also reduce the deficit by $4 trillion by cutting wasteful spending and eliminating tax loopholes for the wealthy, according to the White House. But its fact sheet accused many Republicans in Congress of refusing to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes in order to protect key investments.
In response to the White House estimates, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology said in a same-day blog post that these “aren’t the hard and fast numbers” about the impact of sequester. The group urged research advocates to “make a firm argument” in the hope that this would force the sequester debate to be about the entirety of the cuts and not just the much-publicised defence aspects.
The Task Force on American Innovation—a group of businesses, universities, and science societies—wrote to the president and congressional leaders on 11 February to oppose the sequestration.
“Funding science and research is a necessary and important investment for a country that seeks to expand its economy,” the letter warned. “Pulling back on those investments, especially when other nations are ramping up theirs, is short-sighted and will leave our nation less able to sustain the economic growth it needs to help eliminate budget deficits in future years.”