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    Default R&D Faces Its Own Fiscal Cliff

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    U.S. politicians of all stripes are often quick to sing the praises of innovation and the economic benefits of federally funded research. But unless there’s a dramatic turn of events, U.S. government-funded R&D is poised for years of stagnation.

    The automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, scheduled to take effect on Friday will trigger significant cuts in research and development. From now until the end of September this year, almost $8.7 billion will need to be removed from research budgets, reducing nondefense spending by 5.1 percent and discretionary defense spending by 7.3 percent, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    In the short term, the impact will likely be curtailed projects and lost research jobs at universities and national laboratories in the months ahead. But the longer-term implications of the across-the-board cuts are even more profound. “This is going to have an impact on the next generation of scientists and engineers for the future,” says Joanne Carney, the director of government relations at the AAAS. “And it’s only going to get worse because we are going to have to make more cuts in future years.”

    The belt-tightening has already begun. The National Institutes for Health has reduced grant levels to 90 percent and will fund fewer of them this year. The National Science Foundation is cutting 1,000 grants this year, resulting in 1,600 fewer graduate students and 200 fewer post-docs. Research and development is particularly vulnerable to the biggest cuts in some agencies. The Department of Defense is more likely to fund pressing concerns, such as a project near completion, whereas long-term research is an “easy area to target,” says Carney.

 

 

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