Sequestration and Nondefense Discretionary (NDD) Programs

 What is sequestration?

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) established caps on discretionary spending over 10 years, resulting in $1 trillion in cuts spread across discretionary programs. The law also directed a congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify an additional $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over ten years. The failure of the bi-partisan “super committee” to come to an agreement on a deficit reduction plan triggered “sequestration” to take effect on January 2, 2013.

To sequester means to set apart or to take something away until a debt has been repaid. In the context of funding federal programs, sequester means imminent, across-the-board cuts to most programs, both defense and nondefense—in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts already sustained through the Budget Control Act’s discretionary caps.

There are a few discretionary programs that are exempt from sequestration in the first year, such as Pell grants in the Department of Education. Some mandatory programs, such as Medicaid, are also exempt from the sequester.

What is “NDD?”

When thinking about the federal budget, policymakers differentiate between discretionary programs and “entitlement” programs.  Discretionary programs are those that Congress funds annually through the appropriations process. “Entitlement” programs are those that are funded almost automatically to meet the needs of all who qualify for them.  Every year, Congress must make an active decision on whether to fund discretionary programs and at what level.  

Nondefense discretionary or “NDD” programs are all the programs that the  government funds  for the benefit of all outside of defense programming, including medical and scientific research; education and job training; infrastructure; public safety and law enforcement; public health; weather monitoring and environmental protection; natural and cultural resources; housing and social services; and international relations.

How is the sequester affecting nondefense discretionary programs?

In 2013, the sequester reduced most NDD programs by 5%. These cuts were across the board, with almost no departmental or agency control on how the sequester impacts individual programs.  In 2014, sequestration cuts did not occur because the Congress agreed to temporarily raise the limits on spending for both defense and NDD programs and proceeded to passed was within the new limits.  At the same time that Congress struck a deal for 2014, they also agreed to spending limits for 2015 so sequestration cuts are not expect to take place then either.  

Sequestration will continue to occur in outgoing years unless Congress changes the law or meets ever-decreasing spending limits on the federal budget in its annual appropriations process. 

What can you do? 

Let your Congressmen know that the nondefense discretionary community, including scientific research, has already done its part to reduce the deficit, and that any plan to reduce the deficit should not include more NDD cuts that harm American families.

Recommended message: " I support  a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs. These programs have already contributed to deficit reduction through the bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA) and prior spending cuts."

Visit the AAAS sequestration webpage and the NDD United Grassroots Toolkit to access up-to-date information and a wealth of resources dedicated to sequestration, the fiscal cliff, and budget negotiations.