Senseless Federal Budget Cuts Can Hurt Innovation
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The Fiscal Times
March 7, 2013

The dreaded “sequester” – or $85 billion in mandatory government spending cuts implemented last Friday – also cut the budgets for agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense, and NASA, and as a result, reduced or eliminated research grants to many of the nation’s top science institutions and research universities. The heads of research departments are now facing tough decisions on how to handle the cuts.

PHOTO GALLERY: 10 World-Changing Inventions from Government Funding

In 2013 alone, total cuts to research and development could reach $8.6 billion, according to the American Association for Advancement of Science. The NSF is facing a reduction of $283 million. The agency funds about a fifth of federally funded research at colleges and universities, in areas like biology, computer science and engineering. It anticipates eliminating about 1,000 research grants, which could halt some research projects on clean energy, cybersecurity and advances in manufacturing. 

Many of the cuts are scheduled to happen at the end of the month. Existing grants will remain, but “there's going to be an amazing increase in competition,” Joanne Carney, director of government relations at AAAS, told LiveScience. “Universities are going to have to start becoming a bit more strategic, not only in proposals to the federal government, but also in looking for sources of alternative funding.”

The vice president for research at Penn State University estimates that institution alone could lose $30 million to $40 million in federal grant funding. Illinois could lose $38 million for the state’s medical centers and researchers, which could affect research efforts for cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDs, as well as potentially put lives at risk, according to medical researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

While it may take another month or so to see which research projects get hurt the most, the cuts got us thinking about the innovations and discoveries government-funded research has fueled in the past. Here are 10 world-changing inventions we can thank the government’s pocketbook for.

Blaire Briody is a contributing editor at The Fiscal Times. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Popular Science, Publishers Weekly, among others.