Dear Members of the UO Research Community:
Earlier this week, the Trump Administration released a detailed budget recommendation for FY18 titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” The document adds flesh to the so-called “skinny budget” that was released in March. Details on the overall budget can be found here.
The budget request slashes spending for scientific research, medical research, disease prevention programs and other initiatives important to the University of Oregon. It calls for reductions or, in some cases, elimination of longstanding extramural funding programs, including those of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Economic Development Administration, international education programs, AmeriCorps and the US Department of Energy Office of Science. Analysis of proposed budgets for the science agencies can be found here.
The proposed budget also contains reductions in student aid, making it harder for undergraduates and graduate students to achieve their goals.
This administration’s continued efforts to erode research, innovation and education is frankly disturbing. I take seriously any effort to undercut the research cornerstones of the university-federal partnership. But, remember that ultimately Congress holds the purse strings and there is very strong bipartisan support in Congress for research and development. As Franklin Roosevelt put it, “it is the duty of the President to propose and it is the privilege of the Congress to dispose.”
I am encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for research and student aid that has been displayed so far this year in the 115th Congress. The FY17 budget act was an omnibus bill, not a continuing resolution at the previous year’s funding levels, as many had expected. Congress allocated increases in funding for several agencies including the NIH and added provisions to make Pell grant funds available year-round, not just during the regular academic year. Other important priorities were protected or enhanced such as the National Center for Special Education Research and ShakeAlert, the earthquake early warning system that relies on the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network operated by the University of Oregon and the University of Washington. There is no doubt that research and student aid have strong champions in Congress and within the Oregon delegation.
That said, there is good reason to keep a close eye on the administration’s budget proposal for the following reasons:
- Sequestration and budget caps – The agreement that allowed the past two years of budgets to move forward without threat of sequestration has ended. Unless Congress takes action to manage the caps on expenditures that are now set in statute for the FY18 budget, then all federal programs face a very constrained budget environment.
- F&A costs – The budget assumes that the embedded costs of research for facilities and administration, often referred to as indirect costs, are unnecessary and achieves savings by eliminating reimbursements to universities for research costs. It will require effort on the part of the research community to explain the necessity of these expenses.
- Disruption – The proposed budget singles out some disciplines and research areas for cuts, such as efforts to address climate change, while undermining attitudes about peer review and scientific consensus.
There is no doubt that these are challenging times. In response, I would make two requests of you.
First and most importantly don’t stop writing proposals! It is quite possible that Congress will restore funding levels to at least as high as they approved for FY17. Do not let the rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C. discourage you from seeking sponsored research funding. Please draw upon the resources of our Research Development Services office for help and subscribe to our weekly funding announcements.
Second, become even more engaged in communicating the value of university research, scholarship, and creative expression to policy makers and the public. Now more than ever we need scientists and scholars from all disciplines who are willing to connect with elected officials and taxpayers, who are the true funders of our research.
There are many ways to become active and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has developed some excellent online resources to make it easy. For example, here is a link to the AAAS Science Advocacy Toolkit, which gives guidance on how to write an op-ed for a local newspaper, how to write a letter to a member of Congress, work with the media, or share your story with a public audience. For training, you can also reach out to UO’s own affiliate of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
This week’s budget release marks the beginning of an extended advocacy effort to make the case for research and education investments. While many universities will be engaged in this effort, don’t be a passive observer. We need everyone’s help. There is every reason to believe our engagement can turn back these alarming calls to slash research funding. Let’s make the case that “American greatness” is best achieved by maintaining our decades-long global leadership in scholarship, research and innovation.
David O. Conover
Vice President for Research and Innovation
Professor of Biology