Late yesterday (Nov. 14), the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), the American Society of Plant Biologists, and the National Association of Plant Breeders urged lawmakers to act to avoid the crippling budget cuts known as "sequestration" by delivering to Congress a petition signed by more than 1350 of their member scientists and others in the research and agricultural communities.
Sequestration - large, across-the-board cuts in federal funding - would reduce nondefense discretionary spending by about 8.2% beginning in January 2013. These cuts would severely impact scientific research, as most federal funding for such endeavors (from agencies such as the USDA, U.S. Geological Survey, and National Science Foundation) are part of discretionary spending budgets.
"The potential impacts of sequestration for science funding are huge," says Chuck Rice, past president of SSSA. "It's also going to hurt the capacity of our country to train students and be more competitive in the future. It has long-lasting effects."
The cuts, included in the Budget Control Act of 2011, were meant to act as a motivating contingency for achieving a comprehensive deficit reduction. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was to draw up a plan to reduce the deficit by November 2011 to avoid the massive reductions ordered under sequestration. When the committee failed, the contingency was put in place. Unless Congress can agree on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan in the coming months, sequestration will go into effect in January--something the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA are calling on Congress to avoid at all costs.
"If a bipartisan agreement on the budget cannot be reached, the sequestration plan currently in place will devastate our country's research capacity and the long-term competitiveness of the US in the global economy," says CSSA President Jeff Volenec. "Time and time again analyses have revealed that investments in research and education have a multiplier effect."
The petition is one of several efforts by the Societies' members to motivate Congress. Members were also invited to sign a letter and participate in a "tweet day" earlier this year, and a website containing additional resources on sequestration is hosted by the Societies' policy office. Through these efforts, the Societies are using multiple avenues to convince lawmakers that sequestration would affect all aspects of the agriculture community and that a deficit reduction plan is greatly needed.
"The sequestration petition is an excellent way to show broad support for science funding and to illustrate the negative impacts of non-strategic cuts to that funding," says SSSA President Gary Pierzynski. "From an agricultural perspective, we are faced with the possibility of cuts at a time when the need for agricultural productivity is growing exponentially."