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Jan Lee headshot

Trump's Science Budget Slash Will Impact Business, Too

By Jan Lee

American businesses are still trying to figure out how President Donald Trump's proposed budget could affect their operations. And while it seems increasingly unlikely that Congress will pass Trump's budget 'wish list' as is, the administration’s $1.1 trillion package -- which would beef up defense programs, slash funding for other agencies and demand “significant reorganization” of key governmental services -- could have dramatic impact on American small businesses.

The Labor Department, which enforces occupational safety and fair employment laws (as well as provides federal funding for unemployment benefits), would lose just over 20 percent of its staff and operational funding. Services like the Senior Community Service Employment Program and the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which facilitate employment opportunities and protections for workers, would be eliminated.

And the Department of Agriculture, whose programs play an indispensable role in ensuring that the towns and rural counties that make up America’s fertile breadbasket have adequate funding infrastructure, would see almost a third of its budget stripped. Key programs that connect mortgage lenders and potential homebuyers would also be cut. Predominantly rural states like Alaska would have less state and federal assistance to offer in commercially poor areas.

Science cuts reach overseas

But none of these examples are on par with the impact of Trump’s fiscal vision could have on science and technology.

Federally-funded HIV research, which often receives a boost from overseas collaboration through the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, would face virtual elimination. The proposed budget slashes $69 million from the NIH, removing opportunities for research grants to overseas agencies. President Trump has made it clear that he is not a big proponent of funding overseas agencies. In this case, critics say the budget plan overlooks the fact that American research gains are often the result of international partnerships.

And HIV treatment is far from the only type of research the Fogarty Center promotes. Climate change, maternal and child health, and opportunistic diseases like the Zika virus have at one time or another benefited from programs and partnerships that are now targeted for elimination.

Trump's budget would also call for a “major reorganization” of the NIH. The resulting 18 percent cut in its funding would weaken support for cancer research and provide less funding for other types of investigation as well, say scientists. Public-private partnerships that often support expensive research efforts would be stunted in the process.

Under Trump’s proposed reorganization, funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be reconfigured into a $500 million block grant for states to use as they see fit. Again, the suggested policy ignores the fact that global research is a large part of keeping epidemics at bay and that the CDC’s research successes can be largely attributed to the fact that it is coordinated as a federal program, rather than pursuing disparate interests.

Slimmer science budgets could impact education and medical research

And, as is often the case in funding, cutting back on science has impact in other industries as well, such as the higher-education programs that rely on strategic funding from the U.S. government. Cuts facing the National Institutes of Health would impact graduate and undergraduate programs, resulting in fewer candidates and fewer scientists to fill posts deemed essential in coming years.

But where the budget seriously misses the mark, writes Bryan Walsh, the former international editor of Time, is with respect to the universal flu vaccine – something scientists have been working toward for decades and which seems particularly apt given the latest round of bird flu that hit China the same week Trump released his budget.

"[Pandemic] influenza represents a threat to American security as great as any from terrorism and armed conflict,” Walsh points out. “We would be foolish not to spend what we need to protect ourselves.”

But the administration’s oversight may not be that coincidental. As the Associated Press highlighted last week, it takes today’s funding to create tomorrow’s cures. It also takes concerted, sustained research (and sustained funding) to discover those cures and vaccines, something that can’t risk interruption from year to year.

In comparison, Trump’s budget calls for calculated decisions based on today’s needs and challenges, rather than on those tomorrow’s generations will face. It overlooks the fact that developing the battery of medications that are now on the shelf for HIV patients not only took decades of pharmaceutical research, but decades of medical research as well. The roughly $15 billion the NIH commits to cancer, heart, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer's research is critical to ensure ongoing research.

And time always has a dollar figure attached to it, the Alzheimer's Association reminds us: Care costs for the country's sixth-leading cause of death is estimated to be $259 billion in 2017. In 2050 those costs could hit $1 trillion, with increased demands on family caregivers.

Risk to international collaboration

Trump's proposed budget also assumes that private funding options will grow if governmental options recede or are cut. On the contrary, it is government funding that often makes it possible for privately-supported research to continue.  And as in the case of recent the Zika and Ebola outbreaks, it was the coordination between U.S. research agencies and those overseas that made efforts successful.

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts would also make deep incisions in the funding for the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The World Bank, which serves at critical times as a financial tool for fighting outbreaks like Ebola and Zika, would also see funding cuts.

Ultimately, Congress has the final say when it comes to the nation’s budget. And more back-and-forth is sure to come as all sides weigh in on the topic. Trump promised a more expanded and detailed budget in coming months.

Trump budget: Dead on arrival?

And there are some who feel Trump's budget is just too extreme to make it through Congress. The administration's proposal would cut back on biomedical research, something that has received a fair amount of support on Capitol Hill in recent years. The pushback from NGOs and communities at risk from those cuts may force Congress to rewrite much of what Trump propose -- or reject it outright.

Before the budget could be considered for passage, it would have to meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act. And it's quite possible Trump's budget wouldn't pass the muster, says defense expert Richard Aboulafia. The BCA sets sequestration limits, which in plain terms means that, ironically, any funding over a certain point for defense would need 60 or more votes in Congress -- something that Trump's "hard defense" budget isn't likely to see, Aboulafia predicts.

For now, though, Trump may have accomplished a set task with his draft budget: He told the defense community (and his supporters) that he has the nation's defense in mind. And just as importantly, he put the science community on notice that this administration's priorities and vision for the future will be different.

Public Domain Images: Wikimedia/National Institutes of Health; Wikimedia/Diane A. Reid/National Cancer Institute

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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