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March 30, 2017

Pitt ramps up federal outreach

In response to the Republican administration’s shift in budget priorities, Pitt plans to increase federal outreach activities, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told Senate Council March 22.

Changes were expected, but the release of the Trump administration’s budget outline earlier this month ( revealed what Gallagher described as “the most dramatic shift in priorities across the board that I’ve ever seen.”

Said Gallagher: “It would probably be very good news for anybody on the defense-related research side, but on everything else, if the president’s budget were enacted, it would be very bad news.”

The fiscal year 2018 federal budget proposal centers on a $54 billion increase in defense spending balanced by cuts elsewhere — including a proposed 18 percent cut of $5.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University’s largest source of sponsored research funding.

According to Pitt’s fiscal year 2016 financial report, sponsored research activity totaled $726.5 million in 2016 and $713.9 million in 2015, with about two-thirds awarded through NIH.

“It’s important to remember that the president’s budget release is one step in a long process,” the chancellor said. More budget details must be filled in “and the actual appropriations are done by Congress, then sent back as a bill to the president,” Gallagher said. “Early signs are it’s not going to come out like this.” he said.

“It is, I think, important to pay attention to. And I think it’s important for not just this University, but all universities, to weigh in on the potential ramifications of this budget as it goes through so that lawmakers, as they begin their process, are aware of that.”

Gallagher announced that the University has hired Anthony Gibson, National Science Foundation (NSF) senior adviser for legislative affairs, as its full-time director of federal relations, based in Washington, D.C.

“He’s one of the most experienced government relations people I know in Washington,” Gallagher said. Gibson has worked in policy areas at NSF since 2002, and previously worked in legislative affairs in the White House Science and Technology Office, and in several congressional offices.

“In the past, a lot of our outreach has been on the state side because of our state appropriation. I think you’re going to see more activity on the federal side,” the chancellor said.

State budget update

The state budget outlook is less dramatic, “but that’s not to say it’s smooth sailing,” Gallagher said, adding that there is optimism for an on-time budget this year.

Gallagher said it appears that Pitt’s appropriation will remain flat, or be raised slightly. “My expectation is that for the state-related universities, including Pitt, the difference between last year would be small,” he said.

“Nobody was talking about cuts,” he said. “That allowed us to shift the focus a little to talk about lines in the budget that are not directly part of our appropriation but that we care about” including academic medical center funding, commonwealth universal research enhancement program grants and capital funding.

“We got a chance to broaden the discussion,” he said.

Gallagher encouraged continued advocacy for Pitt’s funding. “It really is important that we be heard and seen,” he said, thanking all who participated in Pitt Day in Harrisburg March 21 (See Pitt goes to Harrisburg.)


—Kimberly K. Barlow

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