How the government shutdown affects science

How the Government Shutdown Affects Science

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Congress was not able to come up with a deal to approve a budget for federal agencies, leading the U.S. government to shut down. Much of the staff of U.S. science and environmental agencies could be hit with furloughs, with possible lost pay.

(From National Geographic/ By Michael Greshko) — Would government research continue? How would clinical trials be treated? What happens to Superfund? Here’s a quick guide to how science may be affected by a possible shutdown, gleaned from U.S. government contingency plans, recent media reports, and archived stories from the 2013 shutdown.


The CDC would maintain some of its critical staffing, and some of its programs—such as PEPFAR, its global anti-AIDS initiative—receive funding outside of the appropriations process, meaning they would carry on as normal.

However, the CDC would furlough more than 60 percent of its workforce, according to an HHS estimate and recent Washington Post report. The remaining staff wouldn’t be able to support the CDC’s annual seasonal flu program—amid one of the roughest flus in recent memory—or maintain the agency’s outbreak detection or technical assistance functions.


More than 94 percent of the EPA’s workforce would be placed on enforced leave during a government shutdown, according to a December 2017 contingency plan drafted by the agency. However, Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the agency had enough funds to operate for a week. After that, most activities would grind to a halt, with exceptions.

Staffers are allowed to maintain scientific instruments, test animals, and controlled environments such as freezers during a shutdown. In addition, the EPA says it will maintain Superfund projects that “would pose an imminent threat to human life,” such as projects that prevent the imminent contamination of drinking water.

But for many Superfund sites, the health risks are more chronic in nature—meaning that cleanup crews at many toxic waste sites would be furloughed during a shutdown. During the 2013 shutdown, cleanup efforts were halted at 505 Superfund sites across 47 states, the EPA said in a statement to the Huffington Postat the time.

The U.S. space agency estimates that of its roughly 17,500 employees, more than 85 percent would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown.

Some full-time, part-time, and on-call employees, however, would maintain the safety and security of NASA equipment and facilities—including the International Space Station.

NASA policy holds that its astronauts aboard the ISS, as well as their support staff on the ground, are still on the job.

However, NASA instructors would not be at work in schools, all tours and visits to NASA facilities would be canceled, and NASA’s sprawling outreach efforts—including its website—would go quiet in the event of a government shutdown.


Department of Health and Human Services guidelines mandate that the NIH could not take on new patients in clinical trials, unless NIH Director Francis Collins deems it medically necessary. In 2013, the Washington Post reported that on average, the 2013 shutdown prevented roughly 200 people—including 30 children—from joining clinical trials each week.

The institutes’ massive grant apparatus—which gives billions of dollars in grants to researchers across the country—would also come to a screeching halt.

New grant applications wouldn’t be processed, and widely used databases maintained by the NIH would not accept new data submissions.

 Nature reported that nearly three fourths of the NIH’s staff were placed on leave during the 2013 shutdown. At the time, some NIH researchers were forced to freeze in-progress experiments.

U.S. government shutdown starts to take a bite out of science

Congress has refused to give President Donald Trump the funding he wants for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

*Update, 9 January, 1:30 p.m.: Shenandoah National Park today informed ecologist Jeff Atkins, featured below, that he will be allowed to enter the park for stream sampling despite the shutdown.

Rattlesnakes, bears, hurricanes, and freezing weather haven’t stopped ecologist Jeff Atkins from taking weekly hikes into Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for the past 8 years to collect water samples from remote streams. But Atkins is now facing an insurmountable obstacle: the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, in its third week.

Park managers have barred Atkins from entering since 22 December 2018, when Congress and President Donald Trump failed to agree on a deal to fund about one-quarter of the federal government, including the National Park Service. That has shut down the sampling, part of a 40-year-old effort to monitor how the streams are recovering from the acid rain that poisoned them in past decades.

“It’s very frustrating to have this needless disruption” in what is one of the park system’s longest continuous data sets, says Atkins, a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “This is the biggest [sampling] gap we’ve had. … Now, there is always going to be this hole.”

Atkins is one of tens of thousands of U.S. scientists feeling the pain caused by the shutdown, which resulted after Congress refused to give Trump the $5.7 billion he wants for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The impasse has all but halted work at more than a half-dozen agencies that fund or conduct research, including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S.

Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and parts of the Smithsonian Institution.

Many of the scientists at those shuttered agencies have been furloughed without pay, barred from working at home, and prohibited from checking their government email. A travel ban has hurt attendance at several major conferences and caused organizers to cancel other events.

The shutdown is also creating chaos for university researchers, private contractors, and others who collaborate with idled federal scientists, or depend on affected agencies for funding, facilities, and data.

Besides doing lasting damage to some research projects, the standstill is threatening livelihoods.

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“In a moment’s notice, I went from believing I had secure income to not knowing when I would be paid,” says Marshall McMunn, an ecologist at the University of California (UC), Davis, on an NSF postdoctoral fellowship. He can’t even find out whether it’s OK to take a part-time job to help pay his bills.

Amy Freitag, a social scientist who does contract work for NOAA at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory in Maryland, says the shutdown has “made it very hard to make progress on any research that involves my [NOAA] colleagues … or do any kind of planning.” Freitag has been able to continue working—from home and coffee shops—because her private employer is paid in advance. To stay on the job, however, she’ll need new assignments. But key NOAA managers have been furloughed.

Atmospheric scientist Rachel Storer, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, but is employed by Colorado State University in Fort Collins, says, “My paycheck isn’t in immediate danger.

” But Storer has suspended work on building digital simulations of cloud formation because she can’t get access to NASA supercomputers. (JPL is open because it is operated by the California Institute of Technology, a contractor.

) “I have other work to fill my time … but it’s a setback,” she says.

The shutdown has also stung entomologist Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Some endangered bumble bees he has collected are now “sitting in a fridge in my lab” and can’t be shipped to USDA laboratories until they reopen.

He notes that a few months’ delay in agricultural research “can mean a whole year of progress is lost, because if we don’t have the answers from the recent experiments, we don’t know how to prepare for the coming growing season.”

Marine biologist Mykle Hoban, a doctoral student at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Kaneohe, was to begin a 10-week project on fish taxonomy this week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The museum is closed, and he can’t reach the researcher he’s supposed to work with, but Hoban still plans to take the trip “and hope for the best.”

Even researchers funded by agencies not affected by the shutdown are feeling the pinch. Rita Hamad, a health policy researcher at UC San Francisco, is supported by the National Institutes of Health, which is open. But she relies on data handled by staffers at the U.S. Census Bureau, which is closed. The result, she says: “I can’t publish timely evidence on policies that I study.”

Other scientists have been forced to cancel long-planned trips and meetings. USDA’s Forest Service pulled the plug on what would have been the 30th annual Interagency Forum on Invasive Species, scheduled for this week in Annapolis. “It’s just a very sad day for science,” says retired federal entomologist Michael McManus, who organized the forum and was expecting 200 attendees.

The travel ban forced hundreds of federal scientists to drop trips to major meetings held by the American Meteorological Society and the American Astronomical Society—in Phoenix and Seattle, Washington, respectively—where they had planned to present work. U.S. scientists will also be absent from a technical meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scheduled for this week in Vancouver, Canada.

Government shutdown: How science research is grinding to a halt

Writing scientific reports can wait, says ecologist Malcolm North with the U.S. Forest Service. But his applications for funding can’t.

As one of the thousands of federal workers who have been furloughed during the government shutdown, North is worried that he won’t be able to seek out the money necessary to continue his research on California wildfires. He’s studying how to keep fires from turning into deadly conflagrations, and his deadline for submitting a grant request is the end of the month.

“We’re really trying to go after this question of how to reduce fuel loads in the forest with prescribed burns,” said North, who wants to tap a new pot of state financing for fire research. “But at this point, I can’t participate anymore in the grant writing. If we don’t make the grant deadlines, I really have no money to work with.”

Much of the U.S. government’s sprawling scientific establishment has ground to a halt.

The lapse in federal funding due to disagreement in Washington over President Trump’s proposed border wall has meant that many employees are kept from doing their jobs.

Besides freezing their paychecks, the result is that the crucial work of scientists on such subjects as wildfires, as well as water, climate, space exploration and more, is not getting done or soon won’t be.

“The partial federal government shutdown is disrupting and delaying research projects and leading to increased uncertainty about the prospects for new research,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former New Jersey congressman, in an email.

The budget stalemate between Congress and the White House, which is now in its third week, affects numerous federal agencies engaged in scientific endeavors.

NASA has furloughed about 15,000 of its roughly 17,000 employees, including more than 1,000 at Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent home about half of its 11,000 workers, including many at its coastal offices in California. The U.S.

Geological Survey has excused most of its 8,000 employees, including several at its regional headquarters in Menlo Park.

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The departments of Energy, Defense and Health and Human Services are not affected by the shutdown since their budgets have already been approved, and employees at shuttered agencies whose work is deemed “essential” also remain on the job. The USGS continues to send alerts about earthquakes and tsunamis. NOAA’s National Weather Service is still issuing weather forecasts. NASA continues to man its space missions.

Work that’s not getting done is considered “nonessential,” but its absence is still having an impact on American livelihoods, if not risking people’s lives, said Jay Famiglietti, former senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

His onetime colleagues at NASA, he said, are not making their weekly contributions to the U.S. Drought Monitor, for example, resulting in a degradation of the weekly drought maps that local and state governments rely on for making decisions about water supplies.

“Most federal water research in the U.S. is now at a standstill, which is inconvenient at best, and dangerous at worst,” said Famiglietti, who is now the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan.

Famiglietti is the co-organizer of a workshop for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in Washington on aquifer recharge this month, but he doesn’t know if the event will proceed, because many of those scheduled to attend are with NASA, NOAA and the USGS and they may not be coming.

The federal government has already directed scientists to cancel travel plans for this week’s annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. The conference, which is being held in Phoenix, is the world’s largest gathering of weather and climate researchers. Typically, hundreds of federal employees speak at the event.

The American Astronomical Society is also expecting numerous no-shows at its annual meeting this week in Seattle.

An untold number of smaller scientific gatherings already have been canceled because of the government shutdown, including a field tour of San Diego County’s Cedar Fire burn scar that was scheduled for this weekend. The event was organized by the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service to help improve the scientific understanding of fire behavior and its impacts.

“This means that (scientists) cannot share their most recent research,” said Famiglietti, who described the many meetings affected by the government shutdown as vital to the scientific community. “It means that they will not be staying up to speed on the latest advances in forecasting, or engaging in important discussions with colleagues and collaborators.”

In laboratories and at field research plots across the nation, some science has simply stopped, or soon will, because of the shutdown.

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Scientists Suffer in Continued Government Shutdown

The ongoing US federal government shutdown, which began on December 22, is affecting the research community. Grant proposals are no longer being reviewed at the National Science Foundation, and the agency is likely to postpone its evaluations of postdoctoral fellowship applicants, Nature reports.

Meanwhile, at least one researcher at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had to put a hold on hiring new young scientists to his lab.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA are also among the agencies whose “non-essential” employees have been ordered to cease working during this latest budget crisis.

“Any shutdown of the federal government can disrupt or delay research projects, lead to uncertainty over new research, and reduce researcher access to agency data and infrastructure,” American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Rush Holt tells Chemistry World. 

Because Congress has already approved a budget for the National Institutes of Health through September 2019, that agency is not affected by the current shutdown. Other government researchers are being kept from their work, however.

Karen Osborn of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, had to forgo a long-planned fieldtrip to Turks and Caicos, where she had planned to barcode tiny crustaceans that live in the country’s oceanic pools, according to Nature.

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She can’t even enter her lab or check her email, while her academic collaborators carry on their work in the field.

Some government researchers are being kept from scientific conferences they had planned to attend. For example, many of the organizers of the Plant and Animal Genome (PAG) meeting, scheduled to begin in San Diego a week from tomorrow, are USDA employees, Nature reports.

“I don’t really do resolutions for the new year, but it would be nice if the furlough would end so that we can get back to feeding the world,” John Cole, a geneticist at the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland, tweeted last week. “The program committee at PAG would also be grateful.

” Similarly, The Washington Post reports, hundreds of NOAA scientists have been told they’ll be unable to attend the world’s largest weather conference, which begins this weekend in Phoenix.

The shutdown could be particularly costly for young scientists, an unnamed postdoc at a government agency tells Time. “I have a few deadlines for abstract submissions and for travel applications coming up that I’m afraid I’m going to miss, because I can’t do anything in an official capacity,” the postdoc says.

“Every lost line on a resume or a CV, every talk that we can’t give, every conference that we can’t go to, can make a really huge difference.” On the flip side, a USDA researcher who spoke anonymously with Nature says he’s had to pause a hiring process for several positions in his lab.

“This is undermining our ability to go out and make a pitch to promising young scientists and tell them this is the place to be.”

For now, it’s a waiting game. “I have thought about looking for a university position where things are more stable,” Osborn tells Nature. “But I am hoping this divisive political climate doesn’t last for a long time.”

U.S. Government Shutdown Negatively Impacts Scientific Research – Enago Academy

Since President Donald Trump took office, his administration has been affecting the scientific community. From gag orders to funding cuts to the reshuffling of scientific advisory boards to allow industry membership, there have been numerous significant changes.

President Trump also withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement and closed National Science Foundation offices overseas, both of which had global impact as well.

Now, President Trump’s third year in office begins with some tough news for science— a partial government shutdown. While the shutdown does not directly affect some agencies that already received full funding, others have not been so fortunate.

Today, we look at the impact the shutdown is having on the scientific and research community in the US, and what outcomes it may have.

What’s Behind the Shutdown?

The partial government shutdown went into effect on December 22 after President Trump and the Democrats failed to agree on a bipartisan spending deal. The shutdown is currently the second-longest in modern US history. It affects more than 800,000 federal workers.

Many have been forced to stay home until the government reopens. Others must continue to work without pay. Affected agencies cannot receive funding until the shutdown ends.

This has already impacted wide swathes of the US economy, as services are reduced or stopped altogether.

Scientific agencies are no exception. The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the departments of energy and defense remain open even after the shutdown.

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S.

Geological Survey, the Agricultural Research Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service, however, have all been shuttered.

The Consequences for Scientific Research

The closing of these agencies is having an extraordinary impact on scientists. Furloughed government scientists cannot check on experiments, perform observations, collect data, conduct tests, or share their results. Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, highlighted some of the projects this will affect.

Kay Behrensmeyer, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the National Museum of Natural History, was forced to forgo a research trip to Kenya that was two years in the making because of the shutdown.

Hundreds of federal employees were unable to attend conferences and meetings. Few of these include that of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle and the American Meteorological Society’s in Phoenix.

But perhaps the greatest impact on scientific research comes from the closing of NSF and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Grant proposals remain stuck in the review process. The researchers keep waiting for funding amidst uncertainty and delays.

Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, do not support the government shutdown. According to them, the shutdown is strangling the American scientific enterprise for no good reason.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said, “[I]f a scientist misses the window of research opportunity because of a shutdown, it has a real impact on the agency’s science-based work—and taxpayer dollars.”

Will This Affect Future Research?

Even if the government reopens tomorrow, the impact of the shutdown will remain for months or years to come. The shutdown also impacts the confidence in the US government to provide research funding and be a reliable collaborating partner. In the meantime, all researchers can do is wait— and hope— for resolving the situation.

Did the US government shutdown affect you as well? What could be some of its consequences? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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