Sequestration — a mechanism for automatic spending cuts — went into effect March 1 and will eventually trigger, over the next eight years, more than a trillion dollars in cuts to federal programs. These cuts, projected to have a significant impact on UC San Diego research and other areas, will continue for the foreseeable future until a bipartisan solution is found.

In addition to reductions in defense spending, federal funds that support scientific research grants, need-based student financial aid, health education, training, clinical care, and many others programs will also see cuts, possibly jeopardizing jobs, advances in research, and the financial stability of many students and their families across the country.

“The federal government is a valuable partner and is critical to UC San Diego’s success as a leader in education, research and health care,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Federal funding of the university’s research enterprise creates jobs, and also supports UC San Diego researchers who are actively engaged in working to solve many of our nation’s most difficult scientific, technological and healthcare challenges.”

At UC San Diego, for the first seven months of the 2012-13 fiscal year (through January), federally sponsored research awards are down by 8 percent. This is likely a result of agencies anticipating sequestration and slowing their rate of spending. How the sequestration will affect UC San Diego further depends largely on how the federal agencies implement the cuts to their budgets.

“UC San Diego is using every means possible to advocate for continued research support at the federal level,” said Sandra A. Brown, UC San Diego vice chancellor for Research. “Additionally, the University of California will continue to advocate for research in Washington through the Office of the President.”

In a letter to the members of the California delegation in Congress, University of California President Mark Yudof urged lawmakers to work with their Congressional colleagues and the Administration to reach agreement to avoid the cuts imposed by the sequestration.

“The federal government is the University of California’s single largest source of support for competitive research, accounting for more than half of UC’s research expenditures,” Yudof wrote. “Federal funding to the university’s research enterprise supports more than 14,500 full-time jobs across California.”

One of San Diego County’s largest employers, UC San Diego’s 2012 revenues were about $3.4 billion; about 30 percent of this total is revenue from contracts and grants, most of which are from the federal government for research.

Though it is unknown exactly how sequestration discretionary cuts will be implemented, here is some preliminary information:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicate that they expect to fund non-competing awards at 90 percent, and will make fewer competing awards to meet the budget cuts.  
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) expects to make nearly 1,000 fewer awards under the sequester.  
  • Department of Defense (DOD) senior research officials have estimated that DOD university research for the 2013 fiscal year will be cut by some $300 million.  
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has indicated that $726 million will be cut from FY13 budget levels, affecting space exploration and other plans.

Though UC officials are still assessing how exactly these cuts will affect UC San Diego, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, for example, are bracing for immediate impacts to their marine operations — the largest academic fleet of oceanographic research vessels in the United States.

Furthermore, students and their families will also feel the impacts of the sequestration. While Pell Grants are protected from sequestration in fiscal year 2013, important financial-aid programs including Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study, TRIO and GEAR UP will be cut under sequestration.

In his letter to Congress, Yudof wrote about the need to support students in these uncertain economic times: “The University of California believes that parents and students must have the necessary financial information they need to make sound decisions about their educational future, but the unstable budget situation at the federal level makes this extremely difficult.”