Trump budget cuts funding to agencies that provide funding for university research
The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget, released March 16, does not reduce deficit spending, but rather redistributes discretionary funding to reflect Trump’s campaign priorities.
The administration’s proposed cuts could significantly decrease UA’s capacity to fund research and development projects on campus.
The budget calls for an additional $52 billion, a 9 percent increase, to be allocated to the Defense Department to increase U.S. military capacity and fulfill Trump’s promise to increase American prosperity through increased security.
The budget increases Department of Homeland Security spending by $2.8 billion to fund the construction of a border wall and the hiring of additional border and customs agents.
The administration is calling for a 6 percent increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in order to expand and modernize VA services.
In an effort to maintain current levels of deficit spending, the Trump administration proposed marginal to significant cuts to the remaining federal agencies.
According to Jen Peng, a professor at the School of Government and Public Policy, “Congress is unlikely to adopt the budget” due to concerns over these radical cuts.
Five departments would see budget cuts of over 15 percent: State Department (-29 percent), Agriculture Department (-21 percent), Labor Department (-21 percent), Department of Health and Human Services (-18 percent) and Commerce Department (-16 percent).
In 2015, UA received over 39 percent of federal research and development grants from these five departments.
The most recent data from the NSF in 2014 shows around 43 percent of research expenditures at UA have federal obligations, making it the largest single source of funding.
“It is hard to imagine the proposed cuts will be sustained by Congress, but it is not hard to imagine that we are going to have to justify every federal dollar we are spending on research,” said Neal Armstrong, Regents Professor and Associate Vice President Research, and Discovery and Innovation.
He expects the agencies which fund university research will be required to be strategic and make cuts to previously funded programs.
“We need to be sensitive to the fact that these are somebody’s tax dollars we are spending and not an entitlement for the research community,” Armstrong said.
The EPA (-31 percent) and NASA (-1 percent), cut in Trump’s budget, as well as the National Science Foundation, not mentioned in the budget, accounted for over 41 percent of federal R&D grants at UA in 2015.
Departments with an increased budget in the administration’s proposal accounted for over 8 percent of grants to UA in 2015.
According to the Arizona Board of Regents, the UA plans to spend an estimated $639 million on research and development projects in the 2017 fiscal year. Around fifty percent of this funding is anticipated as coming from federal grants, with about half coming from the NIH alone.
“Smaller pools of money means less will go to the universities,” said Kimberly Espy, Senior Vice President for Research at UA.
The UA is a public research institution, ranked in the top 40 for research expenditures.
It is hard to predict the effect of these cuts, but faculty at UA have been successful in producing innovative ideas and receiving competitive grants in the past, Espy said.
For Armstrong, these cuts serve as a wake-up call to researchers. Researchers must be flexible and able to pivot their work to align with the priorities of the new administration.
Armstrong believes researchers must also work to message and brand their research to the public in order to keep the public informed on how their tax dollars are spent.
“People are being routinely saved by new medical technologies and new understandings of biological systems,” Armstrong said. “A lot of those innovations came out of universities settings from federally sponsored research programs.”
Beyond the research, federal grants significantly impact the local communities which are home to research universities. According to a 2014 UA Impact Study, federal R&D dollars generate $1.2 billion in economic impact and according to a 2015 NSF survey, contribute 7,800 jobs.
Along with damaging local communities, cuts to research could decrease the output of educated students, the “most important product of research on this campus” according to Armstrong.
In the face of cuts, Armstrong believes the UA could turn more to private institutions and industry to maintain its research status, but the transition will be challenging.
“I am not happy about these proposed cuts, but on the other hand, it is not time give up, but instead Bear Down,” Armstrong concluded.
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