How Sequestration Killed Bunnies

Recently, the Huffington Post looked in-depth at how sequestration’s budget cuts were affecting scientific research.

In 2013, $1.7 billion will be trimmed from the NIH budget due to sequestration. The impact of those cuts are being felt in many ways – including lowered support for extramural research awards and fewer awards being funded than in 2012. The long term impact of a reduction in grant funding is difficult to calculate. Projects end before they achieve their goals, work-in-progress abruptly stops. These are clear costs of stopping the flow of cash to particular investigators. But, the downstream costs associated with failing to complete such projects and losing the ability to train graduate students are long term consequences that are much harder to evaluate. In the Huffington Post article, the story of several researchers and their projects and labs unfold demonstrating the real and personal impact of sequestration on research.

In concert with the article mentioned above, the Huffington Post asked their readers who have been directly affected by sequestration-associated research budget cuts to tell their story. And that’s where the bunnies enter the story. Robert Marc, PhD, researcher at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Ophthalmology related how he had spent about $25,000 developing a colony of rabbits that exhibited progressive age dependent blindness to use to develop treatments. Budget cuts due to sequestration resulted in his having to terminate the study prematurely, euthanize the colony of rabbits, and not complete the treatment study that was in progress. Total savings: $4,000.

Money was saved from Dr. Marc’s prematurely terminated project, but was this being thrifty and good stewards of federal tax funds or penny-wise and pound-foolish? We really can’t know for certain, but it smells more like the latter in this particular case. His is but one example of the responses logged in a followup article at the Huffington Post. The sequester is a blunt tool. No one in congress seriously thought it would get applied – and looking back over time, there is no reason to think that still. However, the current congress is not like past congresses. Opinions are always divided, but traditionally the need to achieve some kind of consensus to move things forward wins out over partisan squabbling. Not so today. Researchers and research administrators are merely one segment of the US population struggling with our current ineffective congress and with luck, during the 2014 elections coming up soon we will express that frustration at the polls and elect leaders focused on effectively managing our country. It isn’t about Republicans and Democrats – it isn’t about conservatives and liberals. Those kinds of differences have always existed. Its about working together effectively to manage the country – and move the frontiers of science forward while doing so.

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