R&D Leaders Decry Effects of Sequestration

By Stew Magnuson
The billions in across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration is having an impact on the research-and-development community, three senior leaders said May 1 at the 2013 Defense Security and Sensing conference in Baltimore.
“The difficult part of sequestration is its inflexibility,” Walter F. Jones, director of the Office of Naval Research, said. If asked to cut 9 or 10 percent from the programs of least importance, then he could handle that.
“Our hands are tied in a lot of different ways right now,” he said. Sequestration, along with a continuing resolution for the 2013 fiscal year and an anticipated one for 2014, makes his job hard.
Civilian personnel pay is being cut 10 percent. “We are in a very hard hiring freeze right now. I can’t even fill key positions.”
“It will pass. We will adjust. Sequestration only really takes us back to levels of just a few years ago. So it is not exactly killing us. But give me the flexibility,” he added.
Peter Highnam, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, said he believed sequestration will pass. Meanwhile, there will be tough choices to be made later this year, he added.
Stefanie Tompkins, deputy director of the strategic technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said her organization has the flexibility it needs because of the way it was set up.
“We don’t maintain institutions. DARPA is a collection of people loosely connected by a travel agent, all of whom are running off and doing their own thing,” she said.
Since DARPA doesn’t maintain laboratories, there is no baseline budget it has to maintain.
“We have always had the flexibility to figure out where to redirect our resources,” she said. That extends to personnel. They are hired for limited terms. “Because of our hiring model, we are not under a hiring freeze.”
However, the cuts are indirectly making the attraction of top talent difficult, she said. The challenge is asking scientists to take a risk, leave their secure jobs, and come work for three to five years knowing that they will eventually get “kicked out,” she said.
That coupled with “whimsical paycuts” and knowing that the appreciation for what they do is not always there, has as made recruiting challenging.
Tompkins believes in the power of ideas and the willingness for some to do this kind of cutting edge work. Nevertheless, the budget cuts are taking a toll on recruitment. “I am not going to say that it doesn’t suck,” she said of sequestration.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Topics: Defense Department, Civilian Workforce, DOD Budget, Science and Engineering Technology, DARPA

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