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University leaders address Homeland Security funding

WASHINGTON – Several New England research universities, scrambling to protect the federal subsidies and grants funding part of their work, are calling on the Obama administration to protect science and technology spending by the Homeland Security Department.

Warning that additional cuts in such funding would kill jobs and cause “an unacceptable weakening of our nation’s security,” the presidents of Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Rhode Island, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute were among a dozen heads of research universities who signed a letter stating their concerns to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

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As the Obama administration prepares to unveil a budget plan for 2013 next month, the university leaders complain they are already feeling the effects of congressional cuts to the department’s Science and Technology Research, Development and Innovation budget, which was sliced by 54 percent over last year to $265 million.

That is part of the overall Department of Homeland Security science and technology budget, which is down 19 percent this year from $827 million to $668 million.

“Of particular importance to our institutions, [the science and technology division] collaborates with university partners to protect our nation’s ports, coasts, borders, and transportation infrastructure, prevent terrorist and cyber attacks, and help make our communities more resilient,” wrote the presidents, including Joseph Aoun of Northeastern, Dennis Berkey of Worcester Polytechnic, David Dooley of the University of Rhode Island, and Robert Caret of the University of Massachusetts.

The letter added, “In conjunction with industry partners and national laboratories, university contributions in developing new security technologies – from advances in explosive detection to development of underwater sensors to mitigating the effects of natural disasters – argues for additional investment. ... Steep reductions may precipitate private sector job loss and an unacceptable weakening of our nation’s security.”

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com
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