Some of the toughest sequester spending decisions involve taxpayer-financed research, where funding today can produce huge benefits tomorrow — but can the government really afford to spend $227,437 to study pictures of animals in National Geographic magazines?

That is one of the 164 grants the National Science Foundation approved last week as it sought to balance its research mission with less funding that means the independent agency will award about 1,000 fewer projects with taxpayer money this year.

The federal government is a major source of financial backing, including $140 billion for research and development alone this year, spread across everything from astrophysics at NASA and defense technology from the Pentagon, to political science from NSF and the latest biomedical research from the National Institutes of Health.

But now, many of those on the receiving end are preparing for cutbacks, and those who do the spending are trying to figure out where to trim.

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