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As Washington Passes Sequestration, Harvard Braces for Impact

Following months of budget battles on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama signed off on legislation Friday night to automatically reduce government spending, unleashing an unprecedented wave of cuts to funding sources that have long supported Harvard’s researchers and scientists.

The budget cuts—collectively known as sequestration—are projected to amount to $85 billion this fiscal year alone and $1.2 trillion over the coming decade. Harvard received over $650 million from Washington during the last complete fiscal year, meaning that researchers across the University will have to cope with the impact of sharply constricted federal funding in the form of both decreased availability and reduced size of federal research grants.

“The acceleration of discovery in so many fields makes this an unrivaled era in its promise for new understanding and human betterment,” said University President Drew G. Faust in a statement to The Crimson. “Yet today—at a time when our desire to ask fundamental questions is matched by our ability to answer them—these cuts threaten to undermine our ability to carry on the basic research that leads us to new frontiers of knowledge and boosts American competitiveness.”

The exact distribution of the spending cuts within specific government programs remain uncertain. But according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget, Harvard’s top two sources of research funding—the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation—are slated to face cuts of about 5 percent each. In expectation of the sequester, the NIH announced last year that it would withhold 10 percent of its promised award amount for all grants.

The government has ordered Harvard’s third top funding source, the Department of Defense, to slash spending by about 7.9 percent.

The cuts come after approximately 10 years of flattened levels of federal funding and will curtail sponsorship for ongoing as well as future research projects. Professors and scientists worry that bleak prospects for funding may both deter budding researchers from entering the field and make foreign research hubs more attractive.

To argue against funding cuts, Faust traveled to Washington this past week to meet with members of the executive department and prominent congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle. In her conversations, she emphasized the ability of scientific discovery to propel knowledge and economic growth forward.

“As I said in my meetings with lawmakers in Washington this past week, it would be worse than a tragedy to waste this moment full of promise,” Faust said in the statement. “It is our responsibility to make sure that Congress re-prioritizes investment in science as soon as possible.”

The future of federal funding remains uncertain, as some government representatives have indicated that they may work to retroactively reverse portions of the sequester, while other lawmakers view the across-the-board budget cuts as a permanent measure.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nikitakansra@college.harvard.edu. You can follow her on Twitter @NikitaKansra.

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