Unless Congress and the Administration strike an agreement, automatic reductions of approximately 8 to 9 percent will be made to the budgets of most federal programs in early January 2013. Mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011, this sequestration was intended to force policy makers to reach an agreement to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion within the next decade. That effort, beginning with a special congressional committee, failed.
The Budget Control Act matters. The ultimate threat of sequestration was intended to force a bipartisan congressional committee to produce a plan to accomplish this deficit reduction goal that would win approval by the House, Senate, and the President. As described by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a July 31, 2012 memorandum, "sequestration is bad policy, [and] was never meant to be implemented." "If allowed to occur, the sequestration would be highly destructive to national security and domestic priorities, as well as to core government functions" OMB warns.
No one on Capitol Hill favors sequestration, and there has been much speculation about modifying the provisions of the Budget Control Act's sequestration implementation date or by exempting some federal programs. The defense community has been active in voicing its concerns about what could be as high as an 11.2 percent reduction in the budget for defense programs if military personnel are exempted (as the law allows.) In July, organizations opposed to any further reductions in funding for non-defense discretionary programs sent a letter to Members of Congress. Signatories to this letter included the following AIP Member Societies: American Association of Physics Teachers, American Astronomical Society, and American Geophysical Union.
Earlier this month, the Presidents of six of AIP's Member Societies - American Physical Society, The Optical Society, AVS, American Association of Physicists in Medicine, American Association of Physics Teachers, and American Crystallographic Association - and the Executive Director & CEO of the American Institute of Physics, sent a letter to President Barack Obama, the leadership of the House and Senate, and congressional appropriators. The text of this letter follows:
"Building a better America requires pursuing a sound fiscal policy. It also means strengthening the drivers of job creation and economic growth.
"There is no doubt we must adopt practices that allow us to live within our means, but we must do so without damaging the engine of our future prosperity. As the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission noted in December 2010, even as we cut spending we must continue to 'invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development to help our economy grow, keep us globally competitive, and make it easier for businesses to create jobs.'
"But today those investments are seriously threatened by sequestrations mandated by the Budget Control Act amendments of 2011 and scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013. A projected across-the-board reduction of 8-9 percent in those accounts would jeopardize the fabric of science and technology that has been responsible for more that 50 percent of American GDP growth since the end of Second World War.
"As leaders of professional societies representing more than 135,000 physical scientists and educators in universities, companies, hospitals and national laboratories, we are writing to urge you to resume consideration of a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. A successful strategy must not only set our nation on a long-term course of fiscal responsibility, but also promote strong economic growth by sustaining the science and technology activities that have long kept America innovative and competitive in the global marketplace.
"We recognize that little time remains between now and the January 2, 2013 date of reckoning. But the stakes are so high that the gridlock, which has hampered progress on deficit reduction, must be broken now for the sake of future generations."
Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics