Automatic spending cuts that will kick in across the federal government if lawmakers fail to reach a debt reduction deal by New Year’s could trickle down to affect research funding at Penn State.
Peter Hudson, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, said every faculty member in the institutes is expected to get research grants. Funds from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation are “immensely important,” he said.
Those funds support graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, Hudson said. Researchers use grants from the NIH and NSF to investigate new aspects of science in health and technology, as well as environmental, social and energy issues, Hudson said.
“Without these funds, we would be little more than a teaching college, and yet this is a university that sits on the three-legged stool of research, service and teaching,” Hudson said.
According to Penn State’s 2011 Annual Report of Research Activity, Penn State received more than $129 million from the Department of Health and Human Services — which includes the NIH — for research in the 2011 fiscal year. The university received more than $60 million from the NSF that same year, according to the report.
Cuts as a result of failure to reach a debt reduction deal would result in 8.2 percent reduction to non-exempt, non-defense discretionary funding, according to a White House Office of Management & Budget report. That includes funding for agencies like the NSF and NIH that provide grants for Penn State research. The cuts are referred to as sequestration, according to the report.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Centre, said in a statement that he will advocate for Congress and the president to come to an agreement that reduces the deficit without hurting economic sectors that communities rely on for employment.
“Allowing the sequester to occur would be a failure of leadership on the part of both parties, which would result in severe implications for our military and other key domestic priorities, such as research and development, along with education,” Thompson said, according to the written statement.
Penn State’s Vice President for Research Henry “Hank” Foley wrote in an email that it would hurt if across-the-board cuts to the federal government kick in, but no one knows how those cuts would affect Penn State, Foley wrote.
He wrote that he doesn’t know if the cuts would be retroactive or apply only to new grants and contracts, he wrote. At this point, it’s impossible to make any quantitative predictions.
Thomas Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment, said no one knows how federal agencies would cope with potential slashes to their budgets. If agencies decide to reduce current, multi-year grants, the institutes will need to re-evaluate their budgets.
“Our goal is really to make sure the best science gets used to inform decisions and improve society,” Richard said, “and federal funding has been really important in helping us achieve that goal.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.