Photo by Will Folsom

The sequestration, absent congressional action, will go into effect on Mar. 1, cutting $109 billion dollars from federal programs. The cut, which was negotiated as part of the debt ceiling negotiations in August of 2011, would automatically reduce national security discretionary spending by 7.3 percent and non-security discretionary spending by 5.1 percent.

The cuts were originally supposed to go into effect on January 1, but were delayed as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations on New Year’s Day. Nevertheless the uncertainty around the cuts has created issues for researchers.

If the sequestration actually goes into effect, however, the rate of grants by the federal government will be greatly decreased.

“We noticed, especially in December, that many of the federal agencies were holding back on making new awards because they weren’t sure what was going to happen,” said Professor Paul Steffes, Associate Chair of Research for Electrical Engineering. “What we found was that many of the federal agencies were holding back to wait to see what would happen on January 1.”

After the effects of the sequestration were delayed for another two months, grant money started to trickle back in.

“January was a good month for us with new awards from the federal government, and that was because most of the agencies received instructions from the Office of Management and Budget,” Steffes said. “They were instructed by OMB to spend up to the levels that they had expended in the previous fiscal year or the amount that was in the president’s [fiscal year 2013] budget, whichever was lower.”

If the sequestration actually goes into effect, however, the rate of grants by the federal government will be greatly decreased. Grants already awarded are expected to funded as agencies have discretion as to where cuts are made.

“I think it’ll preferentially hurt young faculty unfortunately, or actually faculty that are trying to start new research programs,” Steffes said.

The school of ECE receives 60 to 70 percent of its research funding from federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

Despite the possible effects of the sequestration, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats to avoid the cuts have not been productive. The Republican controlled House of Representatives proposed two bills to avoid the sequestration by making specific cuts to other federal programs, but the bills gained little traction in the Democratic controlled Senate. Proposals by the White house that included a mix of spending cuts and tax revenue increases likewise received little bipartisan support.

The school of ECE receives 60 to 70 percent of its research funding from federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. ECE, as well as the rest of the Institute, which also receives much of its funding from federal sources, will likely have to rely more heavily on other sources of funding including foundations and general endowments if sequestration goes into effect.