Cuts will affect startups, universities, and various government labs

Whether you're developing a cure for cancer, or dreaming up solutions to put a human on Mars, there's a chance that you could be out of a job next year.

I. Automatic Cuts Loom

That's the grim reality reported by both a 394-page report from the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a separate, independent analysis by the journal Nature's News Blog.  The reports differ a bit on how much spending will be cut -- but both agree it will be in the billions.

The cuts come due, in part, to a stalemate between the two political parties during an election year.  Both sides seemingly agree that cuts need to be made somewhere, with the annual budget deficit currently at $1.33T USD.  

Democrats tend to focus their efforts on cutting defense department spending, while avoiding cuts to education and only committing to minor reform on entitlements (welfare, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.). Republicans, meanwhile, are calling for an increase in federal defense spending coupled with sweeping cuts to education and entitlements.

Both sides argue that in the short-term deficit spending is acceptable, but that in the future the deficit should be eliminated.

Budget puzzle
If politicians can't agree on the U.S. budget for 2013, an automatic budget with large mandatory cuts drops into place. [Image Source: St. Anthony's San Francisco]

It's unclear whether either side's plan would manage to "balance" the budget.  But it is clear both sides refuse to meet at a negotiating table.

As a result, there will be only weeks to cut a deal before a series of across-the-board automatic cuts of $1.2T USD kick in.  Congress installed those cuts when it raised the debt ceiling as a failsafe in case a compromise on the 2013 budget could not be reached (in retrospect a pretty likely scenario, given the election year tensions).

II. Who Gets Cut, and How Much?

Defense cuts:
One of the biggest cuts will be to U.S. Department of Defense spending, at $54.7B USD (a 9.7 percent reduction to the agency budget).  That cut will likely impact funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as well as funding for weapons research at private contractors.

Billions will also be cut from non-defense research agencies.  

Medical cuts:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a key funder of U.S. medical research, will lose $2.5B USD in funding.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will take a $464M USD hit to non-defense research.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will cut $318M USD in salary and expenses.  

Space cuts:
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) budget is another big loser.  It loses $417M for science research, $346M for space missions, $309M for exploration, and $246M for cross agency support.  Overall the cuts total $1.3B USD.  

Curiousity Rover
The automatic cuts would strip NASA of $1.3B USD in funding. [Image Source: NASA]

When President John F. Kennedy proposed to send a human to the Moon in 1961, the budget was $13.878B USD -- around $101B USD in 2010 purchasing power [source].  Today the budget is expected to dip to less than a fifth of that, at $17.77B USD (2012 dollars).

Exploration cuts:
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) loses $88M USD for surveys and research.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes a $65M USD hit to its research department, which funds various biology and climatology studies.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) loses $217M USD in funding for facilities and research, including climatology studies.

Power/Automotive cuts:
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) takes a $400M USD hit to research funding.

General cuts:
The National Science Foundation (NSF) -- which sponsors all sorts of university research projects -- will lose $463M USD in grant money, plus another $167M cut to funding for new scientific equipment.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would take a $62M USD hit to research and facilities.

III. The Election Effect

Current U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed boosting the overall science budget. Under his plan most agencies would see modest boosts, while NASA would see a smaller cut of $164M USD given the $1.3B USD in cuts the automatic budget cuts would institute.

The President's plan calls for reducing the deficit to $901B USD -- roughly a 1/3rd reduction not adjusting for Producer Price Index (PPI).  It calls for further reduction to $575B USD by 2018 -- roughly a 57 percent cut from 2012's deficit (not adjusting for PPI).

President Obama's proposed budget boosts science, while promising modest deficit reductions.
[Image Source: Reddit]

It's unclear exactly where Mitt Romney stands on the issue of funding for science agencies, although he has made it clear that he wants to increase funding for defense research.

Thus whether U.S. science gets layoffs or a boost hangs not only on who is elected, but whether they can draw a compromise with their rival party to avoid the mandatory cuts.

Sources: White House [PDF], Nature

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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