Early federal budget proposal stirs concern

Stanford leaders say an early outline of the White House's federal budget proposals is cause for concern – but the process is long, and the university will be working with partners to make a strong case for research and education.

Stanford leaders are reacting with serious concern – but also caution – to the federal budget blueprint issued Thursday by the White House.

The blueprint includes proposals for deep cuts in domestic discretionary spending, including for federal research, while proposing increases in defense and homeland security funding. The proposals include an 18 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health, an approximately 20 percent cut for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.

However, the proposal from the federal administration comes at the very beginning of the budget process, and past experience suggests that a final federal budget approved by Congress will look very different. Stanford intends to work with its partners nationally to advocate for a final budget that invests strongly in research and education.

“We are very early in the budget process,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “But it’s clear that the steep cuts being proposed here would have a serious negative impact on research that contributes to the health, economic vitality and cultural life of our country.

“The long-standing partnership between the federal government and universities in supporting research is a big part of the reason America has become a global leader in innovation. Now is a time to actually strengthen our investment in the research and education that are so important to our country and to the world.”

Stanford Provost Persis Drell said the university is preparing a cautious, conservative budget for its 2017-18 fiscal year, partly in recognition of the uncertainty around federal funding levels.

“We’re viewing this largely as a year to shore up our base and build some contingency funding so that we can weather the uncertainties of the period ahead,” Drell said.

“While we work toward a final federal budget that hopefully will be much better for research and innovation, we are committed to protecting our students and junior faculty from the most serious impacts of any cuts that may occur. We want to make sure that graduate students do not have their education interrupted and that our young faculty are supported to be successful. That is part of our budget planning now.”

The federal administration’s spending proposals come in a document known as a “skinny budget” that is not a full budget proposal nor formal legislation, but rather an early outline of the administration’s priorities for the 2018 fiscal year.

Stanford receives about $1.2 billion per year in federal research funding, led by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Stanford faculty also receive research grants from the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and a range of other federal agencies.

The budget blueprint doesn’t provide detail on every agency, and it has no information on budget proposals for some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation.

In the area of student financial aid, the blueprint proposes “level funding” for the Pell Grant program while proposing reductions in other student aid programs, including elimination of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program and reductions in federal work-study funding.

At Stanford, those federal funds total far less than what the university contributes in institutional funds to student financial aid. But their loss would have an impact and would pose new challenges to Stanford’s efforts to maximize the affordability of an undergraduate education, said Karen Cooper, director of financial aid.

Ryan Adesnik, associate vice president and director of federal governmental relations, said Stanford is working with its peer institutions and national higher education associations on robust advocacy in support of their shared priorities on the federal budget.

“We are continually making the case that the research and education being done in universities are critical to innovation, to economic growth and to our society,” Adesnik said.

“There actually is wide bipartisan agreement about the value of research universities to the success of our nation. We’re going to be working very hard to sustain and strengthen that understanding and to see it reflected in the final budget that Congress adopts.”

The Association of American Universities, the 62-member organization of top universities of which Stanford is a part, issued a statement Thursday likewise calling for investment in research and higher education programs to prevent a “U.S. innovation deficit.”