The Northwest's public universities pull in massive amounts of federal research dollars. It totaled $1 billion last year at the University of Washington. Oregon State University won close to $200 million in federal research funds. The University of Idaho is counting on $100 million this year. So it's no surprise that university administrators are hanging on every scrap of news about imminent automatic federal budget cuts.
We're talking about money from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and related federal agencies. Grant recipients here in the Northwest have not heard whether all federally-financed research will be trimmed by a set percentage under the so-called "sequester." Another possibility is that research projects not yet started will be cancelled.
University of Washington vice provost for research Mary Lidstrom predicts undergraduate research assistants will be the most vulnerable.
"If you're having your budget cut and your are faced with having to meet the goals of the project, the first thing you can look to trim will be that funding for undergraduates."
At the University of Idaho, vice president of research Jack McIver says he's fairly confident he can ride out the rest of this school year without layoffs.
"Indications from the agencies are that they will most likely not cut existing awards."
McIver says his bigger concern is for the future, including how to recruit graduate students given uncertain funding.