President’s comments at Faculty Senate meeting of April 13, 2017

In recent weeks and especially since the last Faculty Senate meeting, there have been many questions on campus, and certainly many people, including many here, have asked me about actions in Washington around federal support for research.

First I want to provide some context. The federal government for 2017 is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution, or “CR,” that will expire on April 28th. There is likely to be an uptick in media coverage around the federal budget issues as that date draws closer, and the conversation is very likely to shift toward whether there will be a government shutdown. It’s unclear whether another shutdown will happen at the end of the month. These shutdowns typically don’t last long. However, when one looms we have to be prepared for it, and we are doing so.

In March, as many of you know, the Administration sent to Congress the President’s Budget Blueprint, and that will be followed in May with a more detailed President’s Budget Request, or “PBR.” We already know, and this has been in the press, that it will call for significant budget cuts in federal research – for example, 20 percent for NIH and double digits for many other agencies as well.

All federal agencies are required to identify ways to comply with the PBR, even if the PBR is never enacted. By way of example, if you look at the previous President, his last PBR contained significant tax increases and cuts to defense basic research. None of them were enacted. But the agencies had to prepare for them. So there’s likely to be media coverage of the President’s directive that may be concerning among those who count on those agencies for funding. The research community will be no exception, as the agencies will be forced to plan for those cuts even if they never see the light of day. I want everybody to know there will be a lot of noise, in a context of a lot of uncertainty about what will happen.

Importantly, just like prior presidential budgets, Congress will develop its own budget bill and send it to the President, and we can’t predict what the final resolution between the two bills will be. In fact, there’s speculation that given the wide differences on budget priorities between the Administration and Congress, there is a growing possibility that fiscal year 2018 will also be a Continuing Resolution year, but of course nobody knows for sure.

In the meantime, we are actively working to explain the value of the federal research investment. This is in fact a bipartisan agreement – there is bipartisan agreement about the importance of the research investment. Just as one example, in the past week, focusing in the context of the NIH cuts, Speaker Paul Ryan called the NIH “the most popular domestic funding we have among Republicans.” Many of you know that in December there was bipartisan passage of the CURES bill [21st Century Cures Act], also.

That notwithstanding, we have stepped up our activity to make the case for the importance to our nation of the federal investment in research, and we’ve been planning a number of activities. For example, this week I met with a senior Republican senator to discuss this topic. I’ll be in Washington later this month to join my colleagues from the Association of American Universities, and these issues are at the top of our agenda. When in Washington, I’ll take the opportunity to meet with other key leaders in Congress. Our government relations team will be joining me, as they do a lot of direct outreach not with only our peers, but also directly with key members and staff on all the many issues of concern to the university.

I’ll also in Washington be discussing the importance of our federal research at the Washington Economic Forum, on a panel with Drew Faust from Harvard and Michael Drake from Ohio State. It’s an important audience for us, with key Washington business and economic leaders.

We’ll continue to work closely with the AAU on its advocacy efforts to raise visibility for the importance of federally supported research – again, it’s really reaffirming the importance, because this is widely understood. We’re also participating in some strategic campaigns together with AAU to raise visibility and working on our communication strategies to generate public attention and support for the value of the work we do – to the nation, and to people’s lives.