As Congress goes through turmoil, Virginia Tech will be stuck along for the ride.
While the Senate and House were narrowly able to delay the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, on January 1, 2013, there is still a possibility that it could affect Tech.
The plan includes $1 trillion in spending cuts, including $500 billion in defense, as well as budget cuts to almost all other departments of the government. Given that Tech receives funding as a state institution, it is also at threat along with other universities and government agencies.
"I can think of two ways we might be impacted," said Ken Miller, the Assistant Vice President for Finance and University Controller. "The first would be indirectly, and that would be the sequestration would affect the Commonwealth's economy, base closings or other cutbacks, which would affect state tax revenues, which then might lead to budget cuts or other consequences for the state as a whole.
"The other would be the potential that our research grants and contracts might be frozen at current levels or funding might not be available as readily as it might have been in the past," he said.
With research funding being the most likely cause impact at Tech from sequestration, other groups that would be affected are the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, and the College of Engineering.
However, in spite of the potential upcoming cuts, most are relatively optimistic about avoiding them.
"We have not been alerted by any of our program officers at federal agencies with which we have contracts or grants that we are in any eminent danger of losing already committed funds," said Roderick Hall, senior associate director for Operations and Finance at the VTTI.
"We are therefore cautiously optimistic that sequestration will not have an immediate impact on us," Hall said.
According to Hall though, they are still attempting to diversify their research portfolio and are looking for other potential sources of external funding to avoid the possible adverse effects of sequestration.
In addition, Tech plans to further attempt to avoid the automatic cuts going into effect altogether.
"Certainly we would be talking to our legislators in our area to let them know of impacts that might happen, but like any other organization, it's hard to have a significant direct impact on how the federal government is behaving or not behaving, as the case may be," Miller said.
Despite all the preparations, the fate of sequestration and the federal budget is still to be determined, as Congress has attempted to put off the debt ceiling debate for several months, leaving much of the country, and Tech, in limbo.
"Hopefully they'll be able to negotiate things in a more orderly fashion and not have automatic cuts to kick in that are going to have dramatic impacts," Miller said. "I'm hoping that rational minds will prevail and that they'll do things systematically and not dramatically."
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