This morning I received a legislative alert from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM, the world’s oldest and largest scientific membership organization), of which I am a member, via their Public and Scientific Affairs Board. I am not a citizen of the United States, the country I live and work in, and therefore, have no voting rights. But I am keenly aware of the current economic realities, as well as the politics and public policy-making surrounding them. And I think it is absolutely imperative for scientists, researchers and administrators to be aware of the direness of the situation – and to do their bit – because if not, the impact on scientific research and public health programs, both points of pride of this nation, is going to be devastating. I wanted to share this important missive for the sake of awareness.

As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reduce the Nation’s debt by $1.2 trillion, automatic across the board cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, known as sequestration, are set to be enacted on January 2, 2013. These mandatory cuts will have a devastating impact on the research and public health programs supported by federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Energy and others. The White House sequestration report details the alarming effects of the scheduled indiscriminate cuts on science and public health programs.

As I understand, ‘sequestration’ is a tool, a last-ditch effort to counteract the Nation’s debt, by instituting indiscriminate cuts in funding, and all federal agencies that support scientific research and public health programs – the NIH, CDC, NSF, USDA, FDA, DoE, EPA and FEMA amongst them – are at risk. This is monumental. This is humongous. And this can potentially cripple the Nation, its workforce and productivity for foreseeable future. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which prepared the White House sequestration report to Congress, under the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (STA), doesn’t mince words in laying out the dangers inherent in this policy:

…sequestration would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs… would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families.

On the nondefense side, sequestration would undermine investments vital to economic growth, threaten the safety and security of the American people, and cause severe harm to programs that benefit the middle-class, seniors, and children. Education grants to States and local school districts supporting smaller classes, afterschool programs, and children with disabilities would suffer. The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Customs and Border Patrol Agents, Correctional Officers, and federal prosecutors would be slashed. The Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to oversee and manage the Nation’s airspace and air traffic control would be reduced. The Department of Agriculture’s efforts to inspect food processing plants and prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed. The Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe would be degraded. The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ability to respond to incidents of terrorism and other catastrophic events would be undermined. And critical housing programs and food assistance for low-income families would be cut.

The OMB report makes it abundantly clear that the crisis surrounding the impending sequestration has been precipitated solely because of irresponsible partisan politics intent on President Obama’s balanced proposals for deficit reduction. The report states, in no uncertain terms:

Instead of working to enact a balanced deficit reduction package to avoid the threat of sequestration, some Members of Congress are focusing on unbalanced solutions that rely solely on spending cuts or try to alter only part of the sequestration. These proposals do not represent realistic, fair, or responsible ways to avoid sequestration. Unlike the President’s proposals, they are sharply contrary to the conclusions of numerous independent and bipartisan groups that recommend a comprehensive, balanced deficit reduction package comprised of both spending cuts and revenue increases.

The Budget Control Act (BCA), signed into law by President Obama on August 2, 2011, had drastically reduced spending – with no attendant tax increase – by locking in more than $930 billion discretionary spending reductions over 10 years, which – the OMB report notes – brought “discretionary spending down to the lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower Administration.” The House Republicans are toying with unbalanced and ill-considered proposals – such as the House Republican FY 2013 Budget Resolution and the House Republican Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012 (SRRA) – that would, going beyond the BCA mandates, “further cut nondefense discretionary spending, refuse to raise any revenue from the top two percent for deficit reduction, and fail to address the Medicare sequestration. These proposals would shift the burden of deficit reduction onto the middle-class and vulnerable populations and represent the wrong choices for the Nation’s long-term growth and prosperity.” (Emphasis, mine.)

The OMB report has starkly pointed out that unless the Congress acts, no amount of planning can mitigate the tremendous negative impact of the imminent sequestration. In its emailed missive, ASM is, therefore, encouraging its members to contact their representatives and senators, to educate them about this potential calamity awaiting Science and Public Health in this country. ASM has set up a Legislative Action Center at:
from where members, as well as others, can email or snail-mail the respective member of Congress, asking them to act urgently to avoid the dire consequences of these arbitrary and indiscriminate spending cuts, before January 1.

Please show your support for Science and Public Health by supporting the continuation of funding for these two worthy beneficiaries. The future of this country depends on it.