Election, Automatic Budget Cuts Could Affect Harvard's Research Funding

This is Part II in a series on the presidential election's impact on the issues that Harvard lobbies on. Read Part I on student financial aid and Part III on immigration.

At Harvard, where Congressional appropriations can mean the difference between continuing years’ worth of research and putting a project on ice, the two presidential candidates’ plans for closing the federal deficit could have tremendous consequences.

Harvard received more than $600 million in federal funding for research in fiscal year 2010, according to the University’s annual fiscal report released in 2011.

That funding may be at risk, depending on whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney—who hold disparate views on public funding—wins this November’s presidential election.

Another cut to research money, which has already been diminished by belt-tightening in the wake of the financial crisis, could seriously hamper projects, faculty members said.


“Funding is already short and I am reducing the size of my team and the questions we try to address,” Harvard researcher David T. Scadden wrote in an email.

A reduction in federal funding would have implications for universities across the nation and could even “threaten the preeminence of the US in biomedical research and innovation as it depends on a pipeline of talented people with bold ideas,” Scadden wrote.


While both candidates have repeatedly emphasized their support for scientific research, their platforms reveal differences in their plans for providing that aid.

In previous statements, Obama has said that he wants to double scientific research funding. In his 2012 budget proposal, he increased funds for the National Institutes of Health by three percent, to $32 billion for basic and applied biomedical research.

Romney’s platform calls for budget cuts to research funding and to agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, stating that research should be privatized instead.

Scientific American asked the two candidates a series of questions regarding their positions on research and innovation in America. In the interview, Obama reaffirmed his promise to increase government spending on research: “I strongly support investments in research and development that help spur America innovation and proposed a goal that, as a country, we invest more than 3 percent of our GDP in public and private research and development.”

Romney repeated his pro-private industry stance: “Good public policy must also ensure that federal research is being amplified in the private sector, and that major breakthroughs are able to make the leap from the laboratory to the marketplace.”


Before the next presidential inauguration, a series of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts—known as sequestration—are set to slash research funding by 8.2 percent beginning on Jan. 2, 2013.