US budget: academics warn of ‘devastating’ impact of Trump’s cuts

Health and environmental agencies face savage reductions as defence spending soars

March 17, 2017
Lake Tahoe fire sign
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Alarm: funding for environmental research at US universities is already ‘woefully inadequate’ and any drop ‘will be damaging’, said Michael Purdy of Columbia University

Funding cuts outlined in US President Donald Trump’s first budget will be “devastating” for research in the country, academics have warned.

The document, published on 16 March, proposes that federal agencies responsible for funding biomedical and environmental research should have their budgets cut by up to a third, and that funding to endowments for the humanities and the arts should be axed altogether. At the same time, the Department of Defense is in line for a 10 per cent boost worth $52 billion (£42 billion).

Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that the cuts, if approved by Congress, threaten to be “more devastating than previously thought”.

The budget says that Mr Trump wants to knock $5.8 billion – or 18 per cent – off the allocation for the National Institutes of Health and to complete a “major reorganisation” of its institutes and centres.

Michael Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, said that the cuts were “the antithesis of ‘making America great’”. They would, he said, “be devastating for biomedical research in the United States, but, more importantly, for the health of persons in the US and around the world”.

Professor Klag added that vaccine research and work on cardiovascular disease and cancer would suffer if the cuts went ahead.

The Environmental Protection Agency faces the deepest cuts, with a 31 per cent reduction in funding for 2018 – a loss of $2.6 billion. The document specifically proposes that funding for EPA climate change research be discontinued.

Michael Purdy, executive vice-president for research at Columbia University, said that as funding for environmental research at US universities was already “woefully inadequate”, any drop “will be damaging”.

“We face many daunting environmental challenges – we should be accelerating our rate of increase in knowledge and understanding of the environment, not the opposite – so this proposed action is very discouraging,” he added.

Mr Trump also proposes axeing funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, which fund scholarly research and training, as well as community projects.

Amy Ferrer, executive director for the American Philosophical Association, said that eliminating the NEH would “deal a heavy blow to humanities research and scholarship” in the US.

Robin Kelsey, dean of arts and humanities at Harvard University, said that although the amount of funding available from the NEH and the NEA is modest compared with that for the sciences, losing it would “deal a blow that would be felt from coast to coast”. In the face of such cuts, research efforts would become “even more concentrated in places such as New York and Los Angeles”, he added.

The budget proposal also includes cuts to a host of programmes aimed at low-income students. It suggests significant cuts to a scheme that provides part-time jobs for students with financial need and a $193 million reduction for two initiatives that help disadvantaged students in middle and high schools prepare for college. Mr Trump also hopes to slash the $732 million Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

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