Chancellor Phil DiStefano
Chancellor Phil DiStefano ( Greg Lindstrom )

University of Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano is among university leaders expressing concern that the U.S. risks an "innovation deficit" because of declining federal investments in research coupled with sequestration.

DiStefano is among 165 higher education leaders who signed on to a letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress, saying investments in research and education are critical for the country's global competitiveness. The letter appears in Politico, a national political news outlet.

"Ignoring the innovation deficit will have serious consequences: a less prepared, less highly skilled U.S. workforce, fewer U.S.-based scientific and technological breakthroughs, fewer U.S.-based patents, and fewer U.S. start-ups, products, and jobs," the letter says. "These impacts may not be immediately obvious because the education and research that lead to advances do not happen overnight. But the consequences are inevitable if we do not reverse course."

While CU can't put a dollar amount on how it would be affected by sequestration, campus spokesman Bronson Hilliard said it could impact millions of dollars in research funds and halt the work of scientists on the cusp of breakthroughs.

The impact, he said, would hit CU's partnerships with federal labs the hardest.

"The work could grind to a halt -- no matter what discoveries they might be on the verge of," Hilliard said.

Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at CU, said CIRES has "serious concerns about the potential impacts of sequestration and the damage it could do to our innovative, world-class environmental research and education enterprise."

Abdalati said sequestration could affect funding that comes through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

"We do know that our federal partners value what we do here at CIRES - conduct cutting-edge research on the environment and people's relationship with it - and recognize its societal importance. We also know they are doing what they can to prevent or lessen impacts," he said in a statement.

The Boulder campus is a hub of several research areas, including biotechnology, environmental research and aerospace.

CU officials will soon release figures concerning how much federal research money the school received in the past fiscal year. A year ago, CU announced that sponsored research funding for faculty members registered at $380.7 million for the fiscal year.

Some of CU's top outside funding agencies are NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The letter sent this week to Obama and Congress was also signed by leaders from the Colorado State University system as well as Chancellor Don Elliman, who heads CU's Anschutz campus.

In the letter, school leaders say countries such as China, Singapore and Korea are making dramatic investment increases in higher education, recognizing its potential to spur economic growth. Meanwhile, the United States has fallen to No. 12 among developed countries in the share of young adults who earn college degrees.

The campaign was led by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.