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Title    Impending Government Shutdown Will Disrupt Scientific Research
Date    Saturday September 30 2023, @02:44PM
Author    martyb
from the petty-level-disputes dept.

"dalek" writes:

If Congress does not pass a measure to fund the government by Sunday, October 1, a partial shutdown of the United States government will begin. Much of the federal government is funded each fiscal year by 12 appropriations bills. None of the appropriations bills for the 2024 fiscal year have been signed into law, which is not especially uncommon at the start of a new fiscal year. Instead, Congress authorizes funding at the levels from the previous fiscal year through a continuing resolution (CR), and then the appropriations bills are signed into law when they are ready. The Senate is scheduled to vote on such a CR on Saturday, though any Senator can refuse the expedited process for debating the bill, and delay the vote until Monday. Although the CR is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support, the House is highly unlikely to pass any funding bills before the government shutdown begins.

The impending government shutdown is likely to have significant effects on scientific research, as noted in a Nature article:

Fuelled by infighting among Republicans in the House of Representatives over spending cuts, the United States is barreling towards a government shutdown. Lawmakers in the US Congress have until 30 September (the end of the fiscal year) to reach an agreement over how to keep money flowing to federal agencies, or the government will have to close many of its doors and furlough staff — including tens of thousands of scientists — without pay. Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, work at science agencies will stop, interrupting experiments, delaying the approval of research grants and halting travel to scientific conferences.

A lot of academic research is funded from government grants from agencies like NSF. For grants that have already been approved, universities can continue to conduct research. However, the shutdown will halt the review and approval of new grants. The same article from Nature reports:

The US National Science Foundation (NSF), expects to halt work for 1,487 out of its 1,946 employees, once short-term funding runs out, for example. Scientists can continue to submit applications for funding to the agency, which pays for about one-quarter of the taxpayer-supported basic research in the United States, but no new projects will be approved. The Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the US National Institutes of Health, a significant funder of biomedical research, plans to furlough some 37,325 people — 42% of its staff — by the second day of a shutdown. 'Essential' staff working at its clinical centre or on public-safety missions such as monitoring for viral outbreaks will continue to report to work.

An article in Science states that many clinical trials supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be affected:

NIH was mostly spared in the last shutdown because its budget had already been approved by Congress, but this time it will feel the impact. A subset of its nearly 19,800 employees—just 4427, or 22%—will remain on duty to care for patients at the NIH Clinical Center and maintain research animals and cell lines for labs in the agency's intramural research program. No new patients will be enrolled in trials unless their illness is life threatening. The agency also expects to keep open PubMed, which holds biomedical research abstracts needed for health care, and the registry, where reporting of clinical studies is a legal requirement.

However, the Science article notes that some astronomy research will continue to be conducted during the shutdown due to leftover funds from the current fiscal year or other external funding:

As for research infrastructure that NSF supports, a small number of employees deemed essential will continue to provide support for research programs in the Arctic and Antarctic. And many NSF-funded telescopes should be able to remain open for an extended period thanks to extra funding the agency provided this year to tide them over in case of a shutdown. Most of the optical telescopes are managed for NSF by a nongovernmental organization, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). It has "sufficient financial resources to maintain our functional and research activities for a reasonable length of time," an AURA spokesperson told ScienceInsider.

At the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), run by a university coalition, "We are doing exactly nothing special to prepare for the shutdown," Director Tony Beasley says. That contrasts with the government shutdown of 2013, when NRAO was forced to switch off its U.S.-based facilities after just a few days.

Other agencies will continue to provide services that are deemed essential but will cease other operations. For example, the National Weather Service will continue to issue forecasts and warnings but research to improve weather forecasts will be halted during a shutdown. As in the 2019 government shutdown, the forecasters who issue alerts such as tornado and hurricane warnings will be expected to do so but won't be paid until the shutdown ends.

In summary, the looming government shutdown will not halt science-related activities that are deemed necessary to imminently protecting life and property, such as issuing weather warnings. However, the employees who provide those services will not get paid until after the government shutdown ends. For agencies that do not have supplemental funds available, scientific research will generally be halted.

Original Submission


  1. "any Senator can refuse the expedited process for debating the bill, and delay the vote until Monday" -
  2. "Nature article" -
  3. "article in Science" -
  4. "the National Weather Service will continue to issue forecasts and warnings" -
  5. "the forecasters who issue alerts such as tornado and hurricane warnings will be expected to do so but won't be paid until the shutdown ends" -
  6. "Original Submission" -

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