sequestration summary

The OMB has reported on the effects of sequestration that will be triggered Jan 2013 unless Congress proactively changes the law before then.

Some time ago, Congress set itself a trap: in an attempt to look like they were dealing with government spending and the deficit, they passed a law that triggers automatic cuts to spending, unless Congress agrees and passes laws that make concomitant targeted cuts or revenue increases to decrease the deficit.
The nominal cuts are about $1.2 trillion, over a decade, cut from the projected budget in the out years, and are, by design flat across-the-board cuts.

Of course Congress could not agree on anything, and the cuts are now imminent, particularly since the House will be in recess for most days between now and the election.
While it is conceivable that the dead duck congress will make statesman like solomonic choices after the election and before the new year, pragmatism requires that the federal agencies start planning on implementing the cuts, just on the wild off-chance that Congress fails to act decisively and do the sensible thing.

A little over half the cuts will be from defence spending, so how bad can it be: well, it can be about $50 billion cut from discretionary non-defence spending.
3.5 months from now.

By law the Office of Management and Budget must report line-by-line what this implies, so agencies can plan.
Some spending is exempt from the cuts: actually a lot of spending, like you can't reduce peoples salaries,or pensions, or healthcare, nor can you peremptorily fire federal employees.

So, the OMB went line-by-line through the budget to figure out what could be cut and by how much. This took longer than it should, in some small part because Congress has not actually passed a 2013 budget, there is six month interim budget in place.

The OMB Report is now out, all 400 or so pages of it, and I, being stuck in an airport with wifi on a long layover, read the science agency cuts, so you don't have to...

    Appendix A:
  • NSF - $463 million (p 188)
  • NSF MRFC - $14 million (p 189)
  • NASA Science - $417 million (p 185)
  • NIH - $2,518 million (p 82)
  • DoE Science - $400 million (p 67)
  • NIST - $65 million cut, $47M from science (p 37)
  • NOAA - $257 million from discretionary spending (p 36)
  • CDC - $464 million (p 74)
  • USGS - $88 million (p 109)

The coarseness/level of detail is very heterogenous.
You'll be happy to know the Library of Congress Gift Shop is Exempt from sequestration.

I presume (hah!) that someone will give the agencies guidance on how to cascade the cuts down to the divisions, but as a first approximation, by law, they are flat cuts.

So figure that $50 million goes out of NASA Astrophysics, comparable amount, about the same out of JWST, maybe $100M out of Planetary.

NSF Astro will lose about $20 million (there is that number again).

The catch is that a lot of each of those budgets is already committed: so the directors have to decide how much to claw back out of already awarded grants (ouch) and how much is saved by not handing out new grants (Ouch!).

If everything is taken out of new stuff, then something like 1/3 - 1/2 of new awards vanish, depending on what big things vanish and what large long term committments are locked in and can't be stretched.

So, most likely, something like 20% of new stuff will be cut and there will be some clawback, because you can always find some little thing to cut if asked to give back 5-10% of a grant...

Conference travel could get interesting in 2013 - 'cause the easiest way to absorb small cuts is to cut back on travel rather than salaries (big cuts require salary cuts, that is where most of the spending is, which means fewer hires - fewer grad student RAs, fewer postdocs).
Combined with Congress being back on the warpath over and capping agency employee attendance at conferences, I would not like to be running a large general attendance space or physics conference in 2013...

This could get very interesting.

More like this

Since it appears that the major reason for in person conferences is networking, the question is with social media can that be done away with. The actual presentations could easily be put on the web, with a q&a system. Could this be a sign that the big conference might go away? Actually if you look at it would also be the case with biologically oriented conferences. Perhaps finally they could come into a totally virtual mode.

People have tried to do that, even with tools like Second Life, etc. But somehow doesn't work. Trust can be only build face to face. Of course internet helps a lot, but it is not enough, apparently.

For me, networking is indeed the major reason for attending conferences. And no, that can't be done through social media, or email, in the same way--face to face contact is still essential. However, I'm finding myself attending fewer conferences these days, and more meetings of Important Committees, which also gets some of my networking done alongside the Important Work we do.