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Federal budget information for Lehigh faculty, staff and students

Updated July 24, 2013 (NSF update) - As you are well aware, federal budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, with mandatory cuts to most of the federal government discretionary budget including the budgets of research funding agencies.  On March 21, Congress approved what amounts to a final FY2013 budget that leaves most but not all of the sequestration cuts in effect. This page provides information and links to additional resources for faculty, staff and students whose research programs depend upon federal agency funding.

The effect of agency budget reductions on your research funding will depend upon the agency's circumstances as well as its strategy for managing its budget.  Because the federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution since October, agencies have typically been spending at reduced rates through a combination of cuts to grant budgets and reductions in numbers of new awards.  In some cases, therefore, sequestration may simply prolong the effects of slowed spending that we have been experiencing throughout the year.  

It is important to remember that with each grant award an agency makes a future commitment, typically a firm commitment to funding for the first year, and commitment to funding for subsequent years assuming your continued progress and continued availability of funds (non-competing continuations).  An agency's strategy for dealing with sequestration will depend upon the future commitments it has already made as well as the principles that guide its actions.  All agencies are pledging to minimize long-term effects on their core missions.  For agencies whose core mission involves support of research, this means maintaining progress in the fields of study they support, including effects on the next generation of researchers.  How they do so will depend upon the nature of their grant programs, commitments they have already made, their judgments of the impacts of different strategies, and possibly statutory requirements they must meet such as minimum numbers of grants.

Information from agencies that support research at Lehigh in the greatest numbers is provided below.  More information from many agencies may be found at the Society of Research Administration (SRA) International web site.  We will promptly share with principal investigators any specific notices we receive regarding grants to Lehigh, and will update this page as we learn more.  Further budget action by Congress, related to the federal debt ceiling, is required by late March.

Whom to contact for information:  For questions or concerns about your own grants, please contact your Contract and Grants Specialist in ORSP.

Sharing information:  Many members of the Lehigh faculty are active as reviewers for federal agencies and gather information through their networks of contacts including agency officials.  Sharing information through your Contract and Grant Specialist will be appreciated.  

The  final FY 2013 budget provides for partial restoration of the National Science Foundation budget.  NSF is receiving 2.9% less than in 2012, compared with the 5% cut it saw under sequestration alone.  NSF has cited protection of commitment to its core mission, maintenance of existing awards, protection of the NSF workforce and protection of STEM human capital development programs as its guiding principles.  NSF advises currently-funded investigators that budgets for both current grant period and scheduled non-competing continuations will be met in FY 2013 for all "standard" grants.  In other words, if you have a current NSF grant, a new grant or a noncompeting continuation scheduled to start prior to October 1, NSF will not reduce your budget.  There will be reductions in the numbers of new awards (i.e., future commitments) and therefore we should expect the success rate for pending proposals to remain lower than it has historically been.  In addition, competitions for some programs will not be run.  Against protestations by NSF officials, the funding bill passed by Congress on March 21 includes restrictions on funding of Political Science, requiring the NSF director to justify projects in terms of national security or economic competitiveness.  On June 7, NSF announced implementation of the provisions through use additional review criteria.

On May 8, The National Institutes of Health described its plans for dealing with its budget reductions.  Throughout this fiscal year, NIH has been issuing grant awards in reduced numbers and with reduced budgets, and budgets for non-competing continuations have been reduced relative to originally approved (Notice of Award) budgets.  In its May 8 statement, NIH notes that partial restoration of some awards is possible but full restoration is unlikely, and new noncompeting continuation awards will include reductions.  NIH will not, at this time, alter its contingent commitments for FY 2014 or beyond.  Regarding new and competitive continuation grants, in an extension of the policy established in FY 2012, NIH will not provide for inflationary increases in continuation years in competing grant awards for the remainder of FY 2013, but will allow increased continuation year budgets as justified per the research plan.  The NIH "will make an effort to keep the average size of competing awards constant at FY 2012 levels, but is likely to make fewer competing awards in FY 2013." 

The US Department of Education has provided no information regarding its approach to managing its research grant portfolio under sequestration.  The only statements from the agency have come in the form of Secretary Duncan's testimony to Congress prior to March 1 in which he warned of broad impacts on the agency's mission.  One Lehigh faculty member reports that at a recent grant review session, reviewers were told that the Department's priority would be on preservation of currently funded projects and therefore the major effects would be on funding of new projects.

The National Endowment for the Humanities explains that it put a plan in place last fall that includes constraints on new commitments and on its own administrative costs, the implication being that NEH has not made commitments in excess of its budget under sequestration.  NEH warns, however, that in light of continuing uncertainty, it will be obliged to make fewer new awards than it normally would and to reduce award amounts, and may delay some awards.  NEH does not mention reductions to current awards.

The Department of Energy oversees a wide range of programs including university research programs.  University research falls under the broad category of "financial assistance agreements," for which the Department states that it "may decide not to issue a continuation award - including not awarding incremental funds on multi-year awards - and may require negotiation of a reduction in the scope of your award."  Because DOE's statement pertains to a broad category and not only to university research, the applicability of the statement to university research is difficult to discern.  
NASA, like DOE, oversees a wide range of grants and contracts including grants for university-based research.  Like DOE, NASA is providing a general notice that "it is possible that your contract, grant, cooperative agreement ... may be affected," and that plans for new and existing work "may be re-scoped, delayed, or cancelled depending on the nature of the work and the degree to which it directly supports the Agency's mission goals."
The Department of Defense manages a vast array of programs.  Its Sequestration Center provides little explicit information for university grantees and we have received no specific notices from DOD.