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“The Wolf is at the Door”: Likely Impacts of Sequestration

Richard M. Jones
Number 31 - February 21, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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“My testimony today makes clear that sequestration, especially if accompanied by a year-long CR [continuing resolution], would be devastating to DoD -- just as it would to every other affected Federal agency. The difference is that, today, these devastating events are no longer distant problems. The wolf is at the door.”  So warned Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing focusing on the impacts of automatic budget reductions on civilian and defense departments and agencies.  Unless Congress and the Administration reach a new agreement the cuts will occur on March 1.

The current thinking in Washington is that those cuts are likely to occur.  There are no reports of bipartisan negotiations occurring in public or private to postpone or replace these automatic spending cuts that would occur to every program, project and activity.  Reductions would be about 5.0 percent for nondefense programs and 8.0 percent for defense programs.  A senior official at the Office of Management and Budget calculates that since these savings would have to be achieved in seven months, the “effective percentage reductions” would be 9 percent for nondefense programs and 13 percent for defense programs. 

The February 14 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing was one of the latest efforts to, as Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) explained “put some sunshine on the impacts of the impending sequester on the missions of our federal agencies and on the critical services that taxpayers rely on. The public has a right to understand how the services of the government they rely on will be impacted by sequestration.” 

The following is what is now known:

National Science Foundation:

In a February 4 letter to Mikulski, NSF Director Subra Suresh wrote:

“the required levels of cuts to our programmatic investments would cause a reduction of nearly 1,000 research grants, impacting nearly 12,000 people supported by NSF, including professors, K-12 teachers, graduate students, undergraduates, K-12 students, and technicians.”

“Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction funding at $160 million or less in FY 2013 will result in the termination of approximately $35 million in contracts and agreements to industry for work in progress on major facilities for environmental and oceanographic research.  This would directly lead to layoffs of dozens of direct scientific and technical staff, with larger impacts at supplier companies.  In addition, out year costs of these projects would increase by tens of millions because of delays in the construction schedule.”  [Note that the current and requested budget for this program is approximately $196 million.]

National Institutes of Health:

A February 8 White House statement explained:

“NIH research – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be forced to delay or halt vital scientific projects and make hundreds of fewer research awards.  Since each research award supports up to seven research positions, several thousand personnel could lose their jobs.  Many projects would be difficult to pursue at reduced levels and would need to be cancelled, putting prior year investments at risk.  These cuts would delay progress on the prevention of debilitating chronic conditions that are costly to society and delay development of more effective treatments for common and rare diseases affecting millions of Americans.”

In a different section of this statement the White House stated:

“Cuts to research and innovation: In order to compete for the jobs of the future and to ensure that the next breakthroughs to find cures for critical diseases are developed right here in America, we need to continue to lead the world in research and innovation.  Most Americans with chronic diseases don’t have a day to lose, but under a sequester progress towards cures would be delayed and several thousand researchers could lose their jobs.  Up to 12,000 scientists and students would also be impacted.”

A February 13 “Report on Sequestration” by House Appropriations Committee Democrats also discussed NIH:

“Funding for the medical research programs of the NIH would be cut by about $1.6 billion. More than four-fifths of NIH funding is used to support research and research training at more than 2,500 universities and institutes throughout the country. Sequestration would mean some combination of fewer grants and smaller grants to support this work. These cuts would come at a time when the purchasing power of NIH appropriations has already been eroded, with the number of research project grants awarded falling from a peak of just over 37,000 in 2004 to about 34,600 last year and the chances of an application receiving funding dropping from almost one in three twelve years ago to less than one in five currently. OMB indicates that each research award supports up to seven research positions; hence, several thousand research personnel could lose their jobs.”


The above report explained:

“A $950 million cut to NASA would cut the Exploration program (which includes the Orion capsule, the Space Launch System and commercial crew development); the science budget (which includes climate research satellites and solar system exploration projects); Space Operations (including the International Space Station) and Space Technology and Aeronautics. Sequestration would mean thousands fewer aerospace and research private sector jobs.”

Weather Satellites:

In her opening statement at the February 14 hearing, Mikulski warned “Sequester will mean job cuts not just for people who work directly for the Federal government, but also for those people who work because of the Federal government. These are the jobs of people who keep our communities safe.”  As an example, she said:

“1,000 jobs lost that design, build and operate weather satellites. This delays the launch of next-generation weather satellites by two to three years and puts emergency managers at risk of not having forecasts, watches, and warnings during severe weather.”

Department of Defense:

In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Deputy Secretary Carter said:

“For the investment portions of the budget, the dollar cuts must be allocated proportionally at a line item level of detail. More than 2,500 programs or projects are separately identified as line items and would be reduced by the same percentage. Within each operating account or investment line item, managers could decide how best to allocate the reductions.”

He later added:

“In the long run, national security rests on a strong economy, and also on non-defense functions – like education, especially science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) – provided in other parts of the federal budget. The drastic nature of sequestration would obviously be harmful to these functions. . . . ”

Department of Energy - Office of Science:

In a February 1 letter to Mikulski, Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote:

“Funding cuts to DOE’s basic science mission would be severe.  First, operations at numerous facilities would be curtailed, potentially impacting more than 25,000 researchers and operations personnel who rely on these facilities to make advances both in basic science and in developing advanced commercial technologies. 

“Second, sequestration would cause schedule delays and increased costs for new construction of user facilities throughout the Office of Science . . . . Finally, research grants would need to be reduced both in number and size affecting researchers at our national laboratories and at universities around the country; the pipeline of support for graduate student and post-graduate research fellowships would be constricted in a way that hurts our long-term economic and technological competitiveness.”

The report prepared by House Democratic appropriators cautioned:

“Sequestration will result in hundreds of layoffs at national labs, universities, research facilities, and private sector companies that rely on Office of Science grant funding for energy research. It will reduce operations of major scientific facilities, meaning less research and development in one of the highest priority research areas - designing novel materials - which is critical to advancing energy technologies.

“No new awards to advance high performance computing will be made to stay ahead of Chinese competition and develop the next generation system, known as exascale, before the U.S. reaches the limits of current technology.

“Sequestration will stop almost all construction projects that are replacing aging infrastructure at the national labs. This investment is necessary to support science missions and attract the best scientists from around the country and the world. Several major user facilities at national labs would be shut down including the Lujan Neutron Scattering Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory; High Flux Isotope Reactor, Oak Ridge Tennessee; Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, Brookhaven National Laboratory. Other facilities may be temporarily shuttered, delayed or less available to their extensive user communities.

“The safeguards and security of nuclear and radiological materials at the national labs could be at higher risk with reductions in security officers and inability to fund new security needs at Oak Ridge National Lab after an independent review found security weaknesses.”

Department of Energy – National Nuclear Security Administration:

In this same letter, Secretary Chu predicted $900 million in reductions that would result in “degradation of critical capabilities” in all programs, including refurbishment and life extension nuclear weapons programs, facility security, nonproliferation, and support of the Naval Reactor program. 

At a House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on February 14, National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] Acting Administrator Neile Miller testified:

“Under the current law, the NNSA FY 2013 budgetary resources could be cut by roughly 7.7%, which equates to an effective reduction of over 13% when measured over the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

“More specifically, under sequestration the level for the WA [Weapons Activity] appropriation could be nearly $600M below the FY 2013 President`s Budget, and more than $200M below the FY 2012 enacted level. At the program level, the largest impacts could be on Directed Stockpile Work (DSW) program and supporting scientific and facility operational activities, and on the Defense Nuclear Security (DNS) program. Specifically, for DSW, the reduced funding level would result in impacts to the Life Extension Programs (LEPs) delaying deliveries to the Air Force and the Navy.

“Other weapon system programs could be broadly impacted due to reduced surveillance and assessments, delayed surety improvements, and increased deferred maintenance. Scientific research to build and maintain tools for stockpile certification without returning to underground nuclear testing and facility operations required to execute LEPs could also be significantly delayed. We could need to protect the Navy W76-1 deliverables, but could need to slow the B61-12 LEP, W88 Alt 370, W78/88-1 Study efforts, and not meet some B83 requirements.

“Sequestration could also have significant impact on the DNS organization because it could cause reductions in resource allocation across all functional areas in the security program.

“Regarding the NNSA workforce at our labs and plants, more than 5,000 contractor jobs could be impacted through either work hour reductions or other personnel actions. Agreements with our customers, assumptions and plans, and deliverables for the nuclear weapons stockpile would delayed, some of these across the board cuts could affect all facets of NNSA: the safety and security of the stockpile, the facilities that maintain that stockpile, and the people and processes that provide the nuclear forces that provide us all with security. That is why we refer to it as the Nuclear Security Enterprise (NSE). For example, the production support workforce at the Pantex plant supporting Directed Stockpile work could be reduced by 20% through layoffs or work hour reductions, resulting in our inability to adequately support stockpile workload.”

The “Report on Sequestration” by Democratic appropriators also discussed NNSA:

“sequestration would require the Y-12 site to furlough 700-1,000 of 4,500 employees for a period of up to 6 months. Clearly, these layoffs will adversely impact efforts to improve security. Other NNSA facilities will also face furloughs. The Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas will furlough up to 2,500 employees for 3 weeks. Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico will furlough over 500 for about 2 weeks. And Sandia National Labs will lay off up to 100 positions and forgo hiring staff to support the B61 bomb life extension program.

“The NNSA plays a critical national security role in developing and maintaining the Nation's nuclear deterrent. In the area of our nuclear weapons stockpile, efforts to refurbish and extend the life of several weapons systems would be delayed, including the B-61, leading to increased costs and impacts to deployment and readiness in the future. Sequestration would erode the security posture at sites and facilities by layoffs, workforce reassignments, and project deferrals. Sequestration would hamper the internal oversight function of DOE nuclear facilities and reduce the depth and frequency of audits and evaluations needed to ensure ongoing robust security operations.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics