Restrained budget may negatively impact research



Yale officials are growing increasingly concerned that tighter federal government spending this year for science research could adversely affect programs at the University’s laboratories.

Smaller-than-expected budget allocations will make it more difficult for Yale faculty on Science Hill and at the School of Medicine to secure federal research grants, Yale officials said. The 2005 appropriations bill signed into law last month by President Bush cut funding for the National Science Foundation by about 2 percent, and only increased spending for the National Institutes of Health by 2.7 percent, the smallest increase for that agency in at least 10 years.

While several University officials said they were expecting a slow-down in NIH funding, they were caught off guard by cuts to the NSF budget, where funds for science research already are very small compared to other medical and health areas, Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said.

“The news of next year’s federal budget is very troubling and suggests that investment in the nation’s research infrastructure, on which advances in health and technology depend, is being placed at a lower priority,” Hamilton said.

The NSF, which has funded at least 186 Yale research projects since 1999, accounts for about 25 percent of the research funding on Science Hill, Yale Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said. About half of the Medical School’s budget comes from research grants, the majority of which are from the federal government, Medical School Dean Robert Alpern said.

While the immediate effect of the spending cuts on Yale may be small because most research is covered by multi-year grants, faculty researchers will gradually feel the impact of the reductions as they apply for grant renewals, said Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department chair Thomas Pollard, who is concerned the NSF and NIH will face further cutbacks in the coming years.

“These are appropriations that are quite out of line with the previous funding of the two agencies, which are the main sources of funds for research at Yale,” Pollard said. “This is a cause of concern.”

The spending slow-down will increase competition across the nation for federal grants, but Yale faculty members are well-placed to continue vying for aid, Assistant Provost for Science and Technology Bruce Carmichael said.

“We have good facilities, good faculty, good research ideas, good history with the NSF, but yes, it’s going to be harder,” Carmichael said. “We’re concerned, but I think we’re well placed to be competitive.”

Yale President Richard Levin, an economist by training, said the capacity of American universities to conduct research has had an enormous impact on the economic prosperity of the United States. It would be “very short-sighted” for the federal government to cut back on scientific research, Levin said.

The NSF and NIH have both seen substantial budgetary increases in the past five years. Brian Riedl, a federal budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said they can afford to have their funding cut while the nation is fighting the war on terrorism and is trying to decrease its budget deficit. Those critical of spending cuts to scientific research should offer an alternative to help the government balance the budget, Riedl said.

Yale officials are planning to work with national organizations such as the Science Coalition and the Association of American Universities, as well as with industry leaders, to communicate the University’s concerns to the federal government, Jacob said.

“We all have shared interests in a lively and productive research enterprise in the country,” he said.

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