IOWA CITY — Research funding at the University of Iowa could take a $20 million to $30 million hit if lawmakers cannot reach agreement on a deficit-reduction package by March 1 and spending on many federal programs is reduced across the board.
UI researchers and professors on Monday told Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, that the looming federal sequestration would have short-term financial impacts but also do long-term damage to federally-funded research programs.
Research funding can’t be turned up and down like volume control with the expectation that work can pick up where it was left off, said Ed Stone, a professor of ophthalmology & visual sciences who is director of the UI Institute for Vision Research. Doing that takes some of the most innovative and cutting-edge research programs and kills them, he said.
“What took two months to destroy might take two or three or five to build back” or it may never be restored again, he said.
Much of the federally-funded research at the UI involves health care and the biosciences, areas that are important as Iowa’s population ages, several of the researchers said.
But a federal sequestration, with cuts over 10 years, would potentially impact the entire pipeline of intellectual enterprise at the university, Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dan Reed said. And much like deferred maintenance on bridges or roads, reduced spending on research means that “at some point, the piper comes due,” Reed said.
“The uncertainty is the biggest challenge because we don’t know what to expect,” he said.
In addition to reduced research dollars, sequestration would also result in $5 million less per year in federal Medicare reimbursements to UI Hospitals and Clinics, Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard said.
“This instability makes us really angry and nervous,” Robillard said.
As time ticks toward the March 1 deadline, Loebsack said he’s less optimistic a deal will be struck to avoid sequestration, which he calls an “unthinking” way of budget reduction. He prefers a more focused discussion about priorities and what should and shouldn’t be funded.
Loebsack also said he wasn’t happy Congress went ahead with a one-week break this week, rather than stay and work on the issue.
“There are no easy answers because we’re talking about priorities,” he said. “It never should have gotten to this point.”