Research funding gets a bump for 2014

Federal science agencies saw small budget increases after major cuts.
January 28, 2014

University of Minnesota professor Mostafa Kaveh has been waiting to hear back from the National Science Foundation on some of his grant proposals for more than six months — past the typical waiting period.

As associate dean for research and planning for the College of Science and Engineering, Kaveh knows the grant process well, but he said the foundation has been dragging its feet lately because it was unsure of its own funding situation.

Congress passed its 2014 budget Jan. 13, moderately increasing funding to many science agencies, including the  NSF. But Kaveh said he doesn’t believe the increases make up for the cuts from last year and doubts CSE will see any major changes.

“It’s not exactly much of an increase,” Kaveh said. “It has helped a bit compared to the pre-sequester, but it remains to be seen how each one of the agencies are going to rearrange and redo their programs.”

The NSF is the largest federal source for grants for CSE. The new budget allocated the foundation $7.2 billion this year, up 4.2 percent from last year. The budget also slightly increased funds for other major University federal grant sponsors like NASA and the National Institutes of Health after the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as the sequester took effect last spring.

Because of last year’s cuts, the new budget increases fell flat, said Chick Woodward, program director at the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics.

Woodward said the University may benefit from some of the facilities approved for federally funded construction in the new budget, like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

But it’s a trade-off, he said, because the grants that would allow them to use the facilities haven’t recovered since 2012.

On top of that, operational costs for the new facilities aren’t covered in this year’s budget, so Woodward said he expects older facilities may see major cuts to accommodate the new ones.

At the Academic Health Center, associate vice dean for research Tucker LeBien said the $1 billion boost to the NIH is a great start — but not the end of the story.

“The unfortunate side of it is that it’s still less than what it would have been had the sequester not taken effect,” LeBien said. “So it’s a partial recovery of where the NIH budget should have been.”

The NIH is the University’s largest funding source, awarding researchers $285.8 million in fiscal year 2012 — the most recent data available. After the sequester took effect, the NIH had to give out fewer grants, making the chance of receiving one drop below 20 percent.

LeBien said this downward trend has resulted in limited funds in an emerging and very competitive market.

“There’s two ways to look at this. The glass half-filled, you say, ‘It’s never been more exciting with genomics and all these other technologies,’” he said. “The glass half-empty says, ‘Well, that’s true, but the competition for limited dollars has never been more intense.’”

Michael Schmitt, associate dean for extension at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said this year’s budget is a significant increase for CFANS and he’s excited to compete for the new grant opportunities.

“Our college, our type of grants did not suffer like some other colleges did during the sequester, where their funding got cut or withdrawn,” Schmitt said. Rather, the grants at CFANS merely slowed down.

Vice President for Research Brian Herman said this budget was a significant improvement from years past.

“Not only did NIH and NSF and many of the other federal agencies that depend upon funding get increases,” he said, “but for a long time, it looked like a second round of sequestration cuts would come into play.”

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