Realities of Sequestration: How the Fed’s Budget Cuts Impact Science

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Budget CutsIn March 2013, the U.S. government’s budget sequester went into effect, creating new concerns for scientific researchers who depend on federal dollars to pursue discovery and earn an income.

Given that effective marketing requires acute empathy with your target audience, it’s critical to know how the government’s cuts have changed the lives of these scientists.

First, what is sequestration? In this case, it’s a sweeping initiative aimed at reducing the federal deficit through automatic cutbacks on grant-making and other spending. The sequester already has cut $85.3 billion out of the budget for fiscal 2013, and reductions are set to continue in years ahead — with $109.3 billion of annual cuts planned from 2014 to 2021.

As the government continues to debate exactly how the sequester will take shape moving forward, it’s clear that the vast cuts already have made their mark on many industries, from military to education. Here, we look specifically at the world of science.

Reality #1: National Institutes of Health isn’t flowing with dollars like it used to.

While research funding is never a given, the NIH has been a major source of money for science in recent decades. The agency underwrites about a quarter of all biomedical research in the U.S., making it the single largest financier of such research in the country.

So when the government cut NIH’s funding by about $1.7 billion, thousands of researchers were forced to make tough decisions on which programs to continue and how to conduct science with less money. Jobs were eliminated, research was scaled back, and some projects were put on hold or cancelled.

Marketing takeaway: Scientists today must seriously prioritize their research, which isn’t an easy task. Most will welcome input or help on how to best use limited lab resources. When developing useful content for your audience, this is a topic worth exploring.


Reality #2: Grant-writing will ramp up.

In addition to the NIH cuts, the National Science Foundation lost $361 million in funding, and reductions were made to a variety of other agencies with a scientific bent, including the FDA, the Energy Department, NASA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For scientists whose research is affected by cuts, “it becomes critical to find other sources of funding and convince legislature that more support is needed,” notes Ron O’Brien, director of Public Relations for Thermo Fisher Scientific. “This is something that cannot be underemphasized.” Read a marketing Q&A with O’Brien.

Marketing takeaway: As researchers seek out new sources of funding, they’ll be spending a lot more time writing grant requests. As a marketer, you can provide a great service by providing information that will help them justify the expense of your product or service in a grant application.

Reality #3: Scientists will innovate in any funding climate.

It was New Zealand-born chemist and physicist Ernest Rutherford who famously said: “We’ve got no money, so we’ve got to think.” His words are quite relevant in today’s funding environment for research.

The U.S. R&D landscape has no doubt taken a hit due to the budget sequestration. But we know that scientists will continue to innovate even when grant money is limited. Products and services that can help them do their job faster, easier, and more affordably are in demand.

Marketing takeaway: When crafting your marketing messaging, focus on how you can make life easier for your customers and prospects. What can you do to help them overcome their everyday challenges, including budget constraints, so they can make the next big discovery?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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