The looming budget "sequester" in Washington, D.C., threatens to close national parks, curtail unemployment benefits, extend security lines at airports and more. For Duke and other research universities that rely heavily on federal support for their studies of cancer, climate change and dozens of other topics, the cutbacks could be especially damaging.
Duke officials say they are tracking the situation closely and working with other universities to make clear to legislators the harm that could be caused to the nation's research enterprise if Congress and the White House fail to compromise on a deficit-reduction plan before the March 1 deadline.
"Ever since the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed and set the sequester process in motion, members of our community -- including faculty, deans and senior administrators -- have warned Washington officials of the devastating impact these cuts would have on federally sponsored research at Duke," said Chris Simmons, the university's associate vice president of federal relations. "We've made our case in face-to-face meetings, in letters, on social media and through the news media. I know they have heard us and understand our concerns but, as of today, they have yet to agree on a solution to avert the situation."
Jim Siedow, vice provost for research, says he and other Duke officials are in contact with researchers across the campus about how their laboratories and projects might be affected by a prolonged budget stalemate in Washington. Duke currently spends more than a half-billion dollars annually from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies. It is among the country's leading recipients of federal research support.
"We are working with deans and others to determine what steps we can take to minimize the effects these cuts might have on the Duke research community," Siedow said. "We're monitoring the situation closely in Washington and here on campus, assessing the potential short- and long-term consequences for our colleagues. We know many of them are frustrated about the lack of political movement on the sequester, and so are we."