Budget deal will help UI research

URBANA — The new budget agreement making its way through Congress should have "significant benefits" for the University of Illinois and its researchers, its chief federal lobbyist says.

The two-year deal struck by Republicans and Democrats last week, and approved Thursday by the House, would provide partial relief for the cuts imposed by the budget sequester last spring and give federal agencies some certainty in budget planning, said Jon Pyatt, UI director of federal relations.

"We really see this as a positive sign. We've been lurching from crisis to crisis for the last several years," Pyatt said.

The budget sets government spending at $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014, which runs through September, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015. It provides $63 billion in additional spending authority over the two years.

"It's not going to completely replace the cuts we got in the sequester, but it's a significant step in the right direction," Pyatt said.

More important, he said, it moves the federal budget out of the "continuing resolution" budget cycle, which prevented the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies from launching new research-funding programs.

The UI's Urbana campus receives more than $432 million in federal grants and contracts and is the largest single recipient of NSF awards in the country, with $218.7 million.

The sequester — automatic cuts that took effect March 1 after Congress failed to reach a budget deal — imposed spending reductions of 8.4 percent for most programs, including many federal research agencies.

As a result, the NSF, which lost $356 million in the sequester, announced it would limit grants in future years and suspend some new research initiatives.

The Urbana and Chicago campuses also receive millions in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, which cut existing grants by 4 to 7 percent to help meet a $1.5 billion budget cut required by the sequester. It is also funding 700 fewer new grants this year. It remains unclear how the new agreement would affect individual programs.

"What it will allow agencies to do is really get out the new opportunities on some new ideas," Pyatt said. "It's some certainty for the next couple of years."

Next up

The bipartisan budget deal must next pass the Democratic-controlled Senate before being sent to the president. A vote is expected early this week.

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