Budget talks move out of the headlines for a while

As dust settles from shutdown showdown, sequestration is back on the table.

Now that the federal government has reopened and the threat of financial default has been tamped down for a few months, it’s time to take stock and see how the research funding agencies are managing. We also want to answer that burning question: Will the conference committee do something about sequestration?

First, recall how the mess was resolved. The deal brokered by the Senate and accepted by the House allows the government to be funded through Jan. 15, 2014 at "sequestration levels;" that is, without removing any of the cuts that have already been made. The debt limit was extended through Feb. 7. A budget conference has been established to negotiate a long-term spending plan with a target date of Dec. 13, 2013. The deal included back pay for furloughed federal workers and a provision to verify incomes of people who apply for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

So how are research funding agencies recovering from the unscheduled work stoppage? Sally Rockey, who is in charge of extramural research at NIH, said in her blog, “Because of the shut-down, over 200 review meetings had to be canceled and thousands of reviewers had to change their travel plans. More than 11,000 applications were affected by these cancellations. The shut-down also affected many of our major deadlines, including the October R01 deadline. Due to the shut-down timing, it is extraordinarily complex to reschedule all these deadlines and reviews. We have just published a guide notice explaining how we will proceed." See more on the website.

Acting National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Cora Marrett, in a note to the scientific community, declared: "The collective impacts of the funding lapse and sequestration will ripple across the scientific community for the foreseeable future, hindering the science and engineering progress so vital to our nation's future prosperity."

NSF has resumed accepting proposals through its FastLane system, although the foundation expects to announce revised due dates for those proposals whose deadlines were between Oct.1 and 25. Some revisions have already been announced (PDF, 54KB) and scientists are urged to contact program officers for additional information.

Sequestration is getting more attention as the House-Senate budget conference committee meetings begin. Budget Committee leaders Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., have begun discussing how to proceed in the first budget conference since 2009. According to a report in the New York Times, instead of discussing a large deal with “significant new tax revenues and large-scale changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” “they agreed, the talks will aim at a more modest, confidence-building measure to replace the sequestration cuts in 2014. Negotiators could aim higher, for a deal saving at least $1 trillion over the next nine years to substitute completely for the arbitrary sequestration cuts. But neither side was hopeful of that."

APA is an active participant in the NDD United Coalition, which advocates on behalf of the budgets of non-defense discretionary programs. In mid-November the coalition will release an important report on the impact of sequestration that will arm organizations in the coalition for a new round of advocacy in support of repealing sequestration. Stay tuned for more details.