Alex Kim / The Dartmouth
The automatic budget cuts will exempt most mandatory spending such as Medicaid, debt interest payments and federal employee retirement benefits, and will instead affect discretionary spending that includes funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Work-Study Program.
In the 2012 fiscal year, federal agencies such as these sponsored $172.5 million of Dartmouth's research, or 81.7 percent of the total research funding received.
Other sources of external funding include industry grants from corporations and foundation grants from nonprofit organizations, Associate Dean of Faculty for the Sciences David Kotz said.
Information about cuts to specific government departments and agencies are monitored daily and updated on the Office of Sponsored Programs' website to help faculty re-budget ongoing research, Interim Provost and Vice Provost for Research Martin Wybourne said. In necessary cases, faculty can fulfill financial needs that are not covered by re-budgeting by drawing upon other sources of funding, including reserve accounts holding awards accumulated in previous years.
"The institution needs to support the faculty and provide the tools they need to weather the storm," he said. "The people in the Office of Sponsored Projects, the deans, fiscal officers and myself are ready to step in and help faculty work through this."
NIH, NSF and the Department of Defense sponsor many research initiatives at Dartmouth, including those at the Thayer School of Engineering and the Geisel School of Medicine. All College research initiatives fall under the federal classification of discretionary spending that is projected to suffer 5 to 10 percent budget cuts.
The Department of Defense budget will be reduced 8 percent, while NSF and NIH budgets will each face 5 percent cuts.
The automatic budget cuts' impact is difficult to predict since they have just taken effect, Wybourne said.
"The challenge here is that there's so much uncertainty," he said. "But we've made a very clear determination that we want to protect the research and the people involved in the research to the greatest extent we can."
The automatic budget cuts affect future grant proposals by reducing the number of projects that the government can afford to fund.
Both the NIH and NSF have stated that funding will not be retroactively withdrawn from grants that have already been approved. Instead, the cuts will be reflected in the number of grants funded in the future.
Reduced federal grant money for research could trigger a "trickle-down" effect, said Duane Compton, senior associate dean for research at Geisel. With diminished funding, faculty would not be able to support as many student researchers and technicians. The automatic budget cuts also reduce research grants that provide cost-of-living stipends for many graduate students at the Geisel School.
Overall effects will be gradual, due to the lengthy grant proposal review process, Thayer dean Joseph Helble said.
"Over the next month, I don't expect there to be any impact at all," he said. "Most of the current grants are fully funded, and the school will help faculty cover existing research."
Specific actions to buffer against the impact of automatic budget cuts requires further information from Congress, Compton said.
The broader impact of the automatic budget cuts lies in its potential to reduce new awards, leading to greater competition for limited funding.
"Grants are really the bedrock on which research stands," he said. "That's why these kinds of changes in the federal budget are so unsettling."
Helble emphasized the need to prioritize funding for research and development when framing a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.
"Education and R&D spending are the two areas where we're investing in the future, so to disproportionately cut those doesn't seem like a particularly forward-thinking approach to take," Helble said.
By not prioritizing funding for academic grants, the United States risks losing its global footing to produce cutting edge research, Wybourne said.
"Funding from the federal government has been so important in moving the creation of knowledge forward, and that's had a dramatic spin-off effect on workforce and employment," he said. "Cutting basic research really cuts the life-blood of the economic engine that drives the country as a whole."
On March 27, Congress faces another deadline to either generate a budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year or authorize a government shutdown, in which the government would cease to provide all but essential services. Until then, government spending levels remain unclear, preventing the College from formulating a clear plan of action, associate vice provost for government relations Martha Austin said.