Georgetown professors expressed concerns over federal funding for environmental research with the incoming President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump made multiple comments disputing climate change during his campaign. His selection of Myron Ebell, who denies climate change, to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency has also raised concerns.
Environmental advocacy group Students for Climate Security led a march against Ebell’s leading the transition team from Red Square to Ebell’s office on L Street on Nov. 18.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has blamed China for making up the theory of climate change as a hoax and pushed to save the coal industry.
Biology professor Gina Wimp’s research on the genetic and environmental factors that affect biodiversity depends heavily on federal funding. Wimp said she is concerned about her funding in light of Trump’s campaign messages.
“Honestly, I feel uncertainty because I really don’t know what Trump is going to do. I feel that I can’t really get a read on it,” Wimp said. “But, the indication I have so far is that he doesn’t seem to really value a lot of scientific research.”
Wimp said if federal funding were to be curtailed, she would not be able to cover the costs of her research. Even with the help of private grants and resources procured by the university, she would have to cut essential aspects of her research.
“That would basically take away my ability to use any sort of molecular analysis in my research, so it would really limit the scope of my research,” Wimp said. “I would have to simply work with things that I can financially afford.”
Biology professor Edward Barrows, who previously served as director of the university’s Center for the Environment, said federal funding for scientific research has been in decline for several years already. Barrows said he is concerned that the incoming administration will further reduce already limited resources.
“Funding is already very limited, and the new administration could make it even more limited,” Barrows wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This would affect that research effort at GU and elsewhere. From the standpoint of GU science students, there could be fewer resources for their research projects. This is worrisome in this era of science and technology.”
Georgetown University Medical Center’s Dean of Research Robert Clarke said cuts in federal funding have already hurt researchers in the past and that future cuts could have negative repercussions.
“Cuts in federal funding for research hurt all of us by slowing and even stalling critical research,” Clarke said. “We have serious issues right now with an aging Baby Boomer population that will experience the silver tsunami of disorders including Alzheimer’s and cancer. We can’t afford to go backwards.”
School of Foreign Service Science, Technology and International Affairs Program Director Mark Giordano said that while Georgetown supports scholars by covering relatively low-cost expenses, it cannot provide higher-end items for research.
“Georgetown in general and the School of Foreign Service in particular has many programs to help support faculty with smaller budget items such as travel and conferences. There is no way it can support the big-ticket items,” Giordano said.
Clarke said some of Georgetown’s funding initiatives are designed to help scholars obtain the federal resources necessary for professors to complete their projects.
“At the medical center, we have a number of community philanthropists called ‘Partners in Research’ who provide seed funding for the exploration of early scientific ideas,” Clarke wrote in an email to The Hoya. “These are critical dollars for researchers to generate data that then helps to apply for larger grants.”
Associate Vice President of Federal Relations Scott Fleming said despite the likelihood of Trump’s administration cutting research funding, the role of multiple government branches and departments in the budget process makes the final outcome unclear.
“President-elect Trump and his team will put together a budget proposal for 2018, and we will once again begin the annual appropriations process,” Fleming said. “When it comes to this budget process, there are a lot of people involved, it is not simply the administration.”
Fleming said the 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday, provides a mechanism for continued funding in the area of health care that is independent from the fiscal budget. The act will fund public health programs, new cancer treatments and new treatments to combat the opioid epidemic.
“It is a broadly supported bill. And it would, this money would be there and it would be in this separate account,” Fleming said. “Given the fact that it’s set up in this way and it’s already paid for. It is, to an extent, isolated from the overall budget, because the money is there for that and nothing else.”
Fleming said the university will continue working to ensure that funding reaches scholars in Georgetown no matter the budget.
“With proposals for increases in defense spending and for tax cuts, it is hard to see how the budget is going to play out over the next couple of years,” Fleming said. “I am by nature an optimist, but I am also a realist, so I see the challenges that lie ahead.”
Giordano said while predictions may not be optimistic, it is best to exercise caution when considering the future of research funding under the Trump administration.
“While the signs for research funding are not good, you have to think carefully about predictions,” Giordano said. “The country doesn’t always get what it voted for and sometimes that is good.”
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