September/October 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 7

download pdfDownload full issue pdf


From the Executive Officer
sally hillsman

Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive

Sequestration = Devastation of Key Federal Programs

Significant cuts to your present and future federal
research grants and your students likely,
if sequestration occurs on January 2, 2013.

What Is Sequestration?

In the summer of 2011, Congress and the White House had a political debate over the U.S. debt limit. Needing to increase the U.S. debt or face insolvency, they compromised on the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25). The law places caps on federal discretionary spending over 10 years, cutting approximately $1 trillion from defense and nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs. In addition, the law also directed a bi-partisan congressional “super committee” to find an addition $1.2 trillion budgetary savings over 10 years. The “super committee” was unable to come to an agreement and Congress has yet to develop alternative legislation. Without an alternative enacted into law by January 2, 2013, an automatic sequester will be triggered.

Vantage Point

In this context, sequester means across-the-board cuts to most programs in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts already required by the Budget Control Act. The sequestration will mean an automatic 8.2 percent across-the-board cut to the 2012 funding levels for most NDD programs.

Cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our nation’s research infrastructure. According to the Office of Management and Budget (
), the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget will be cut by more than $2.5 billion and the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget would be slashed by $551 million. In addition, if the sequestration happens:

Congress still has the ability to prevent the sequestration from taking place if they pass legislation in which the parties agree to revenue increases while ensuring the required budgetary savings.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives majority has indicated that it only wants to protect  defense funding from sequestration without revenue increases (Sequester Replacement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4966)). Under this plan, NDD programs could see a cut approaching 20 percent. Almost every college and university and every department would feel the consequences of such a large cut to the non-defense federal budget.

ASA has joined over 3,000 national, state, and local organizations in a letter to Congress showing our support for nondefense discretionary programs. The letter defended NDD programs as core governmental functions that benefit society, including medical and scientific research; education and job training; infrastructure; public safety and law enforcement; public health; weather monitoring and environmental protection; natural and cultural resources; housing and social services; and international relations. It focused on the extent to which these programs support economic growth and strengthen the safety and security of every American in every state and community. NDD programs also represent a small and shrinking share of the federal budget. The NDD budget represented 3.4 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, consistent with historical levels. Under the bipartisan Budget Control Act, NDD funding will decline to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2021, the lowest level in at least 50 years.

NDD programs are not the reason behind our growing debt. Even completely eliminating all NDD programs would still not balance the budget. Yet, NDD programs have borne the brunt of deficit reduction plans.

What Can We Do?

As scientists and citizens, we need to contact our members of Congress to let them know that we support NDD programs, especially those programs that are important to social and behavioral science.

Members of Congress can be reached by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or online at and In addition, visit their local offices or venues in which they are meeting the public while the Congress is on recess.

Your message can be simple. Something like:

As your constituent, I am deeply concerned about the impact of the upcoming budget sequestration on social and behavioral science programs. These programs are crucial to our nation’s economic health and infrastructure.

I urge you to work towards a balanced bipartisan agreement that ensures predictable and sustainable support for nondefense discretionary programs. Additionally, I urge you to come together to forge a long-term solution to our current fiscal crisis.

As you know, on January 2, 2013, sequestration will go into effect unless legislative action is taken. As a result, domestic programs will be cut by more than 8 percent in FY 2013. The potential cuts devastate scientific research—the “seed corn” of our economy.

In addition, the sequestration will drastically impact the data collection done at the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Institute of Justice, and the National Center for Health Statistics. These data are needed to help our city, state and county governments make informed decisions about how to distribute resources based on need, address  community disparities, and fight crime.

I understand that our country’s fiscal house must be put in order. Social science research can help you confront those issues with empirical data, and it helps educate the young to confront challenges of the future. Drastically cutting programs that impact the future of our country and especially its young will not help us out of our fiscal situation.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing your response.

You can also use Twitter to send a message to your member of Congress. For a complete list of members and their Twitter handles as well as other social media accounts, please see these House & Senate lists. For those relatively new to Twitter, we recommend a great “Twitter 101 Guide from Half in Ten/Center for American Progress.

Invest in strong education, public safety & social science @[Member Twitter handle]. Support balance to stop #sequestration! #NDDUnited

In addition to contacting your members of Congress, you can engage any candidate running for elected office about this issue. Urge them to support the social and behavioral sciences publicly during the campaign and when they are elected.

The ASA Executive Office will continue to work with our science and COSSA partners to fight the sequestration, but in this election year members of Congress are listening to their constituents. We must be vocal and we can’t wait!

Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at

Back to Top of Page

Print this article discuss this article

Featured Advertiser:

Carla's Cancer Chronicles

Back to Front Page of Footnotes | Table of Contents