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Zuber addresses potential impact of federal sequestration on MIT research

In a letter to principal investigators and researchers, MIT's vice president for research outlines the possible impact here.
Maria Zuber, MIT's vice president for research and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics
Maria Zuber, MIT's vice president for research and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics
Photo: Donna Coveney

Maria Zuber, MIT's vice president for research and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, sent the following letter to all MIT principal investigators (PIs) and research administrators on Wednesday, Feb. 27, outlining the possible effects of the federal government's automatic budget cuts — also known as "sequestration" — that are expected to take effect March 1.

Dear MIT PIs:

Most of us have been following the news regarding sequestration and wondering, if it happens, how it will impact our research programs.

At this point it appears highly unlikely that a budget deal will be struck by the Friday (March 1) deadline, and so across-the-board budget cuts, i.e., the sequester, will likely take effect. The across-the-board feature limits agency discretion and means all agency programs will be affected. Defense discretionary spending (including defense R&D) will be cut 7.3% and domestic discretionary spending (including non-defense R&D) will be cut 5.1% for FY13; sequestration continues for a decade. The federal government is currently operating on a six-month continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government through March 27. A budget must be passed by then to avert a complete government shut down.

How this will affect us depends largely on how the federal agencies implement cuts to their budgets. Some preliminary information follows below:

— NIH has issued a statement as to what is likely to happen in the event of sequestration. They indicate that they expect to fund non-competing awards at lower levels (e.g. 90%), and make fewer competing awards to meet the budget cuts. Each Institute within the NIH may choose different strategies for applying the cuts. The full statement can be found at:

— NSF expects to make nearly 1,000 fewer awards should the sequester take effect. NSF further states that it expects to continue current awards at the current levels, with no impact to existing standard grants, at least for FY 2013. The full notice can be found at

— DOD senior research officials have estimated that DOD university research for FY13 will be cut by some $300M.

— DOE’s chief financial officer has ordered each DOE Office of Science program to base its spending under the current half-year continuing resolution at 50% of the minimum of four figures:
  • the final 2012 appropriation
  • the President's request for 2013
  • the House of Representative's committee recommendation for 2013
  • the Senate committee recommendation for 2013
The Office of Science Deputy Director noted that two OS programs — Fusion Energy Sciences and Biological and Environmental Research — unfortunately fare poorly under this scheme.

— The NASA Administrator has indicated furloughs are not contemplated for employees at this time, but $726M will be cut from FY13 budget levels, affecting space exploration and other plans. The NASA CFO will be issuing an agency planning memo and directives on sequestration soon.   

The AIP has summarized agency comments on sequestration at: The Washington Post is projecting how agencies will apply the cuts. The article can be found at

OSP will post any additional notices under the OSP News section, as we become aware of these notices. See

MIT continues to advocate for research in Washington DC through the President, the VPR office and the Washington Office.

In the meantime, we recommend:
  • DLC Heads and Deans establish a reserve for “hardship” cases
  • PIs maintain contact with their program officers for specific information
  • PIs and AOs monitor accounts closely for early warning signs of overruns
  • PIs share this memo and additional information, as it becomes available, with staff who may be worried about how proposed cuts may affect them
In addition, Provost Kaiser and I have set aside funds and will work with DLCs and Deans to assist investigators with the greatest needs. MIT and other universities will be attempting to track the effect of sequestration in terms of both research and funding that is being cut and research work that cannot be undertaken — we will be in further contact as our plans develop.

Maria T. Zuber

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