Dear Friend of Indiana University:
Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump made his FY18 budget request to Congress. The plan calls for a reduction in non-defense discretionary spending of $54 billion. As a result, this budget—if enacted—would dramatically slash spending in several areas, especially those vital to higher education generally and Indiana University specifically.
But before I outline areas where the president has proposed cuts and how IU is responding, it would be instructive to review the process for funding the federal government and its programs.
First, while the president’s budget proposal is a starting point, it is ultimately the responsibility of Congress to write and pass a budget. The president typically sends Congress a budget proposal for the succeeding fiscal year during the first week of February. In the case of a new administration, the budget request may not arrive on Capitol Hill until March or April.
The budget that is then developed by Congress takes into account the president’s budget but is not bound by any part of it. The congressional budget in turn is actually a non-binding resolution that merely acts as a blueprint in setting spending limits for various categories of federal appropriations; it does not itself make programmatic appropriations.
So while specific appropriations calculations may be included in the president’s budget to justify various spending levels, they are not directly related to what those appropriations will ultimately be, nor are they included in the congressional budget when it is voted on. Presidents rarely, if ever, get exactly what they ask for in congressional budgets, and Congress—consistent with its prerogatives—routinely sets funding levels far different than what the president has proposed.
Second, after Congress passes a budget and establishes spending limits, it must then pass a series of 12 appropriations bills that make programmatic appropriations in accordance with those spending limits. House and Senate consideration of these spending bills takes place during the spring and summer. Again, Congress routinely makes programmatic appropriations at levels far different than what the president has proposed.
Third, for any federal agency for which Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill by the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, it instead passes what is known as a continuing resolution in order to fund the agency’s operations. In essence, it continues to appropriate money in a manner consistent with prior-year levels until it expires (at which point another continuing resolution can be passed) or until appropriations bills have been passed.
All of this is to say that while the president’s budget would be devastating to vital IU research, programs and services if approved, implementation of it as it stands is extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should be complacent; the threats are still very real. In this context then, the best strategy is for us to focus on the areas where we feel we can be most effective, rather than spreading ourselves too thin in trying to fight every objectionable spending proposal in the president’s budget.
That is exactly the approach IU is taking. We have identified four areas where we feel our unique resources and knowledge can be used to take the lead in working with federal policymakers to support continued funding of programs of central importance to us. In other areas, we will support our sister institutions and other stakeholders from around the country in their comparable efforts. We have already begun working with Indiana’s congressional delegation on these areas, and we are working to reach out to relevant members of the new administration as they are hired.
Below is an overview of those four areas and why they are important to IU.
Reduction in funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health
In December, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act, a law that appropriated more than $6 billion for medical research programs through NIH. IU endorsed this legislation, and its passage signaled to university researchers and young scientists that the federal government is committed to enhancing research into disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The president’s budget now proposes cutting $6 billion from the NIH budget, which would halt the momentum that has been built around Alzheimer’s and other biomedical research.
Elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities
At IU, support from the NEH is fundamental to our outstanding research and scholarly programs in the humanities and social sciences as well as supporting our mission to provide an excellent, relevant and responsive education across a wide range of disciplines while contributing centrally to the economic, social, civic and cultural development of the state. NEH funds are also essential to communities across the state, particularly those in rural or underserved areas.
Elimination of the Department of Education’s Title VI international education program
Over the past 60 years, federal support for international education programs like Title VI has been crucial in providing U.S. national security agencies with professionals who possess deep knowledge and expertise in languages and area studies. At the same time, U.S. universities, including IU, have invested substantial resources to build capacity in global studies and world languages.
This government-university partnership has been instrumental in educating and training generations of U.S. diplomats and national security professionals whose skills are in permanent demand. Elimination of federal support for Title VI would threaten the pipeline of experts in global studies and languages.
Reduction in funding for the federal work-study program for students
Nearly 2,000 IU students take part in the work-study program, which requires IU to provide 25 percent of wages for the students who participate. In fact, the number of students interested in participating in work-study exceeds the funds IU currently receives.
Studies have shown that students who participate in the federal work-study are more likely to graduate and be employed six years after college than their counterparts who don’t participate in the program. It would be a mistake to reduce funding for this program.
IU has been a consistent and strong advocate in each of these areas over the years, and our programs are extensive and among the best in the nation. We will continue to vigorously advocate for these areas and to educate federal policymakers of their great importance and benefits. We are also developing coalitions of fellow stakeholders from around Indiana and the nation to join our advocacy in each of these areas.
Indeed, many of you have asked how you can help in these efforts. If the proposed budget cuts might impact your research or department directly, we would encourage you to share your story with our government relations staff in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, if you belong to a professional organization that is coordinating a jointly signed letter, please share that with our Washington staff at email@example.com, as well. We feel we can be even more effective if we can compile more real-world examples into our communications with federal officials, and we can also ensure that your individual communications are directed to the proper elected officials. We may also want to call on some of you as experts to help make the case to government and elected officials about for the importance of your work.
We believe that our efforts and those of hundreds of other institutions and organizations around the nation, as well as the work of thousands of citizens, will help to ensure that the most damaging aspects of the administration’s budget are not enacted and that these vital programs will continue to be funded. I will continue to keep you updated on our progress.
With thanks as always,
Michael A. McRobbie