Although newly elected US President Donald Trump is not expected to release his first budget until mid-March at the earliest, reports indicate the budget for fiscal 2017 (October 2017–September 2018) could contain major funding cuts for a number of federal agencies, including agencies supporting science and research. The Trump administration has been most forthright about its plans to cut the EPA’s budget and funding for climate change research (see Science).
However, the largest funder of science and technology R&D (as defined by the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS]), the US Department of Defense, is expected to receive a substantial budget increase. The fate of the federal government’s largest funder of civilian R&D, the DHHS, which is home to the NIH, is currently unclear.
To determine the impact that federal budget cuts could have on capital equipment purchase at government-supported labs, IBO undertook a survey of lab personnel at federal, state and local government-supported laboratories. (see Demographics below.)
The survey was conducted using BioInformatics LLC’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), an online panel of over 70,000 life scientists and medical professionals. The survey of US SAB members was conducted the week of February 20. A total of 78 qualified completed surveys were received. To qualify, respondents must have rated themselves as “extremely knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable” of their labs’ budgets. In addition, only labs directly funded (versus indirectly funded) by government sources were selected to participate.
Respondents were asked, “If your lab were to face a government funding cut in the near future, which category of spending is mostly likely to be affected first?” Among the 10 categories of expenditures listed, staffing was chosen by 42% of respondents as the expense most likely to be cut.
However, capital equipment purchases were not far behind, selected by 36% of respondents. In fact, as the graph below indicates, capital equipment purchases and staffing together accounted for over three-quarters of responses.
For instrument and lab product companies, this suggests that government capital equipment purchases could be impacted by any cuts by the Trump administration affecting lab budgets. These same companies often also supply service and support, consumables and reagents, which survey results indicate would be far less vulnerable to such cuts. In fact, overhead and reagents were not cited by any respondent. In addition, survey results showed little effect on capital equipment operation.
Respondents were also asked about the predictability of funding received from government sources, with 64% calling it only “somewhat predictable.” Of the few responses received to an open-ended question asking about the causes of unpredictability, respondents generally cited politics.
“Other” included HHS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice, among other answers, such as state and local sources.