Sequestration Devastation and the Future of Biomedical Research

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Funding, Policy

Adam Ashton, from the Tacoma News Tribune, published a story on Tuesday raising alarm for the impact of sequestration on military spending in Washington State. Sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, will cut $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years. The first round of across the board cuts to spending will occur on January 2nd, 2013. Ashton is correct, due to the large amount of military in WA this so called “fiscal cliff” will no doubt have adverse effects on defense spending in the state. Additionally, Ashton got it right when he wrote, “The heavy cuts also would impact federally funded domestic programs such as courts, farm subsidies, national park rangers, air traffic controllers and public housing projects.” What I was frustrated by was that Ashton failed to mention the major loss in research funding for institutions like University of Washington and biotech companies across the state.

US defense spending, even when adjusted for inflation, has seen continual budget increases over the past 10 years. Not surprisingly, Republicans are even calling for additional defense spending above the bipartisan level set in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Conversely, due to the large amount of inflation for biomedical research supplies and flat funding each of the past few years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is being funded at the lowest level since 2001. Additionally, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) determined that the number of NIH research grants has decreased every year since 2004 and success rates for grant funding have decreased by 14% over the past 10 year. Already, too many of my friends and colleagues have felt the effect of decreased NIH funding, aka when funding runs out, they are out of a job.

An article by Dr. Arthur S. Levine states, “According to the national economic consulting firm Tripp Umbach, federal- and state-funded research conducted in 2009 at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals supports nearly 300,000 or one in 500 U.S. jobs and adds nearly $45 billion to the U.S. economy.” WA ranked 8th in NIH funding in 2011, being awarded almost $1 billion in research funds spread over 68 institutions and 9 congressional districts. Funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) added another $22 million in grants for WA state. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) reports that NIH funding to University of Washington generated $9 billion in economic activity and almost 70,000 jobs, and NIH funding produced an additional 12,000 jobs and almost $2 billion in economic activity state wide in 2007 (unfortunately updated data is not available).

Scientific and technological research and enterprise has been a cornerstone of US power and success. The sequestration will have devastating effects on an already battered biomedical workforce. Due to sequestration, WA state stands to lose over 100 million in NIH funding alone. Research!America published a detailed report on the effects of budget sequestration on biomedical research in the US and it contains some very scary statistics. What scares me even more is, as Talking Points Memo reports, “If Mitt Romney wins in November, he and a Republican Congress will fast track legislation early next year to replace across the board defense cuts with cuts to food stamps and other programs for needy Americans.”

I do not support sequestration, across the board cuts to defense will affect Department of Defense research and development funding also, but bottom line is that the US cannot afford more defense spending in combination with more cuts to social programs and biomedical research, especially when defense spending is going to “planning and development of a new U.S. missile defense site“. WA state, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the US cannot afford it either.

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