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Impacts of Sequestration Take Shape as Congress Drops R&D Spending Below 2012 Levels

With the passing of the final Congressional appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013, investment in federal research will reach its lowest point since 2002, according to new estimates released by AAAS on 22 March.

The drop primarily reflects the influence of sequestration, the across-the-board cuts that took effect on 1 March, according to R&D Budget and Policy Program director Matt Hourihan, who conducted the analysis.

Amid major disputes over taxes, spending, deficits and the fiscal cliff, Congress had passed a continuing resolution to keep government in operation through the first six months of the fiscal year, which begins on 1 October and ends on 30 September. That resolution–and the government’s ability to operate–was set to expire on 27 March, until last week’s appropriations agreement.

Overall, the picture for FY 2013 is not dramatically different from earlier AAAS estimates of how federal R&D would fare under sequestration for the remainder of this fiscal year. There were a few surprises, however, as some agencies took greater hits than others. (See graphs below.)

Congress substantially reduced funding for the Department of Defense, cutting an additional $1.3 billion below FY 2012 levels. It isn’t yet clear how these cuts will be allocated between the science and technology and the weapons development accounts.

The Department of Energy’s atomic weapons programs bucked the trend and received funding increases compared to last year, though this increase does not reflect cuts due sequestration, and other research programs at DOE received flat funding. Together, the changes lead to a roughly 1.1 percent drop from FY 2012.

R&D budgets for the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology also increased, likely leaving both agencies above FY 2012 levels even after sequestration is applied.

The 4 percent decrease for NASA is almost completely due to sequestration, though the Science and Space Technology directorates increased at the expense of the Exploration and Space Operations accounts. Likewise, despite a modest increase for the National Institutes of Health Director’s Office, sequestration will leave the agency’s R&D funding roughly 4.8 percent below FY 2012 levels.

Alan I. Leshner, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of Science, has noted that while budget cuts appear necessary and unavoidable, deficit reduction must be wise. A sequester “would absolutely devastate the American scientific community exactly at a time when other countries are investing tremendously,” Leshner has said.


Watch an interview with Matt Hourihan of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

Read the full analysis of the FY 2013 appropriations by the R&D Budget Policy Program.

View sequestration resources collected by the AAAS Office of Government Relations.