Delaware researchers say they are worried about President Donald Trump’s recently released budget proposal, which aims at cutting millions of dollars in federal funding for scientific research - with a significant amount coming out of the National Institutes of Health budget.
The 2018 budget blueprint cuts funding from the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent, leaving the NIH with about $26 billion in funding for disease research. It’s something that worries Charlie Riordan, University of Delaware’s vice president for research.
“Certainly on the research side it’s going to greatly diminish opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to participate in research activities which will impact their time-to-degree completion,” Riordan said.
In the longer term, Riordan said he is worried it could have an effect on the education pipeline, with students interested in studying in these fields questioning whether the opportunities are worth it.
Over the last year, UD spent $31 million in NIH funding on research. The proposed budget cuts would extract more than $6 million from their budget, Riordan said.
The budget blueprint also worries Melissa Harrington, Delaware State University’s Interim Associate Vice President for research, who said almost $3 million in NIH funds received in the last year covered tuition for 11 graduate students and paid research experience for 23 undergrads at DSU.
“The concern for us at smaller institutions is as the resources get tighter and tighter, it’s the biggest institutions with the most leverage [that] would be the ones able to hang onto the programs that benefit them,” Harrington said.
If they lost NIH funding, both DSU and UD would seek out money from the private sector or foundations. But Harrington said DSU is a primarily undergraduate institution with an emerging strength in research, whereas UD has been a major research university for decades.
But both Harrington and Riordan feel optimistic that the final budget will look different from the one President Trump proposed.
“I think there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic,” Riordan said. “A couple of observations come to mind. One is that the depth of the proposed cuts in the President’s budget are so significant and certainly unprecedented in the last several decades…that I have already heard and read a number of people on Capitol Hill say that this budget proposal is so called dead on arrival.”
Although Trump proposed the budget, Congress ultimately approves and enacts it.
“Biomedical research is incredibly popular in the Congress and with our senators,” Harrington said. “So I am hopeful that in the end when everything gets sorted out I don’t think our Congress is gonna cut NIH. I think it will be flat, but we’ve had to deal with that a lot in previous years.”
Federal funding from the NIH has remained essentially flat since 2009. Riordan said the potential loss in the NIH budget is a historical dip that the United States has not seen before.
Other cuts outlined in Trump’s budget include eliminating the Sea Grant program - a program UD participates in that serves coastal research. The budget also cuts 21 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary funding and highlights an increase in funds to prevent opioid abuse.