Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sequester: it gets personal

The bite from the sequester (also known as the Total Fail by Congress to do its job) is starting to hit.  The Huffington Post has a random sample of sequester stories, tales of loss of funding for programs, and layoffs.  Many of these affect education and care for the poor.  There are also military effects (like cancelled naval deployments), and loss of air traffic control.  And, of course, my own personal bailiwick, basic research.
New studies downsize potential job losses because of the federal budget cuts. Agencies have figured ways to ensure that the more alarming effects (no food inspectors!) are avoided. Government organizations are coming up with methods to delay severe disruptions. Congress isn't debating a replacement. The media have lost interest or have reduced it to a political argument. The economy was supposed to be brought to its knees by the $85 billion in cuts. Instead, we trudge along in a new normal. 
This is a dramatic misunderstanding of what's actually happening. The grips of sequestration are just now beginning to be felt and the effects are already quite dramatic. 
....On the national level, sequestration may be defined by canceled White House tours and long lines at airports that never materialized. But on the local level, it is beginning to sting.
Boy is it ever.  In case you don't know, in real life, I'm a professor of science at a large research university.  I do basic cancer research, in addition to all the university roles associated with teaching and administration.  And I like to think that I'm a pretty good scientist.

 But my ability to continue to do science is being dramatically affected first by the steady decline in funding of the National Institues of Health.  The NIH budget is flat lined, which means doesn't even keep up with research inflation:  that is, there is a steady decline in what that same dollar will buy.

We are already in a funding crisis in biomedical research in this country, with record breaking lows in numbers of grants funded.  At a time when Singapore, China, and India are increasing their research investment by as much as 20%,  the US is reducing ours, which will have long term consequences on innovation, economic impact, and health outcomes.

As if that wasn't challenging enough,now there's the additional bite of the sequester. The LA Times reports that California alone may lose $180million in research funds.  Studies suggest that each dollar spent on basic research ferments at least $2.21 of economic activity.  After all, even a modest sized lab like mine hires staff, buys supplies, needs services from machinists to janitors. So that $180million in cuts is nearly $400million in reduced  economic activity in CA.  People are already being laid off.  And that's apart from the knowledge gained or the long-term health benefits.

Over all, the National Institutes of Health is being cut by $1.5billion under sequester.    NIH by far the major funding source for medical and basic biomedical research.
That amount is more than the FY12 funding of $1.491 billion for three major research programs at the National Cancer Institute that study the mechanisms, diagnosis and prevention of cancer. and more than the $1.48 billion budget for the National Institute of Mental Health.
It's ironic.  Right now, I'm doing the best science of my career.  But the chances are better than even that I will not be able to do research much longer. And as well as cutting my pay (part of which depends on grants)  that means students, postdocs, and technicians will be out of a job.

Apparently Grover Norquist and the tea party think that's just peachy.

So, what are you going to do about the mess that is the sequester? Call your Congress person and give them an earful. 


it's margaret said...

We are totally dependent here on Head Start, Indian Health Services (which was the only health system cut), and other programs which help the poor.

I think it is going to be a very difficult summer.

IT said...

Indeed. It's the poor who are being most affected. Cancer patients are losing treatment, Air Traffic towers are shutting down. Long lines at immigration. but why is it there isn't more outrage??