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On her most recent trips to Washington, University President Drew G. Faust has added yet another pressing, albeit more quotidian, item to her lobbying agenda: keeping the lights on in Harvard’s labs.
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget would decrease funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, cutting largely from a category of funds called “Facilities and Administrative costs.” These “indirect costs” include lighting and heating within research facilities at universities around the country—one part of the federal government’s effort to bankroll research at American institutions.
Harvard received around $600 million in federal research funds in 2016, and approximately a third of that goes toward indirect costs, according to Faust.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said that losses to indirect funding could pose a real challenge for the FAS, Harvard’s flagship faculty.
“We’re bringing in quite a bit of money through federal contracts which provide money for a lot of buildings and other infrastructure that makes possible what we do going forward,” he said. “So if that was to all go away, we’d have to sit down and look at that.”
University administrators across the country, including Faust, are pushing back on the Trump budget, arguing that this money is essential to keeping buildings open and operations going. Faust said she is lobbying members of Congress, who are charged with passing the final budget, to preserve the funds.
“I’ve been in contact with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, who’ve been very responsive and very active in pushing back against this,” she said. “So we’re feeling good about where this is at the moment, thanks to the leadership of a number of members of the Republican party in alliance with Democrats on this."
Faust met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House over the summer. She has also met with Congressman Tom Cole, chair of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Senator Roy Blunt, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.
Those efforts seem to bearing fruit. In September, the House passed the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education funding bill with a provision to safeguard indirect costs, and the equivalent Senate bill has now passed through the appropriations committee. The two chambers will have to reconcile their versions of the legislation, and Trump will have to sign the final version before money is shelled out for this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1. Congress passed a spending bill to keep the government running through December to buy time.
Smith said that there is not an easy solution if the University loses large amounts of indirect funding. FAS is already struggling with the financial implications of “disappointing” endowment returns and has taken on debt to fund its House renewal project. To Smith, though, maintaining “excellence” is more important than a balanced budget.
“I personally believe it’s much harder to rebuild excellence in an intellectual area than it is to take a couple years and have some financial ups and downs, as long as it doesn’t last for 25 years,” he said.
—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
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