Research applications, funding on hold during shutdown (INCLUDE IN PACKAGE)

Nicholas Hunter

Shutdown fact sheet:

Information from House Appropriations Committee fact sheet.

What is the shutdown? Because a budget appropriations bill has not been passed by Congress, several federal government agencies do not have funding and have been forced to close their doors until the bill is passed.

Why is it happening? There is a dispute between President Donald Trump and the Democratic-controlled House over whether to approve $5.7 billion in funding for improved border fencing along the U.S. Mexico border. The president wants the funding, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, refuses to pass any budget bill until the president’s “wall” funding is granted.

Why does it matter? When a shutdown happens, some federal agencies lose funding. This means those agencies are not providing services or carrying out regular duties.

When did it start? Dec. 22, 2018 

When will it end? There is no scheduled end date. The shutdown will end when a compromise is made between the House and Senate on border funding and both sides approve a new budget.

How many people are directly impacted? 420,000 federal employees working without pay, 400,000 more furloughed (sent home from work without pay until government reopens).

Since the federal government partially shut down Dec. 22, a wide array of government entities have lost funding until it reopens.

Among those entities is the National Science Foundation (NSF). With a requested budget of more than $5.8 billion for 2018, the NSF provides a great deal of funding for hard science research at universities, including Kent State.

NSF staff members have been furloughed, which means they are barred from working — in-person at government offices or remotely — in any capacity.

With staff unable to do its jobs, work isn’t being done. This affects each shutdown department in different ways, but for the NSF, it halts all non-emergency functions. 

That means no research grant applications can be accepted, no updates can be processed for in-process grants, new grant opportunities can be announced and ongoing grants cannot be paid out, according to a fact sheet on the NSF website.

The only exceptions will be in the case of the Cooperative Support Branch, which will have staff ready in case of emergencies that would put lives or property at risk if not attended to.

Paul DiCorleto, the vice president for research and sponsored programs at Kent State, said the university will carry out ongoing research for the foreseeable future, despite the shutdown.

“The university just goes ahead and spends the money,  knowing that the government will pay the money when the check arrives, essentially,” DiCorleto said.

Despite the ability to keep ongoing research running, the shutdown is putting new work to a halt.

“Usually the delay in getting things back up and running is longer than the period when the government was shut,” he said. “So if the government is shut for one month, in some cases it could take two or three months before everything is back to normal. So this is a significant issue.”

In a letter published in Nature, a weekly international journal on science, Anne Jefferson, a professor of geology at Kent State, broke down the impact the shutdown could have on scientific research.

“In Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, we’ve planted thousands of saplings with the help of hundreds of volunteers,” Jefferson wrote in the letter. “Those tiny trees are supposed to be part of a decades-long experiment on the critical zone, the life-sustaining region from groundwater to treetops.

“The only thing that protects the saplings from hungry deer is a thin fence. And the Park Service rangers who protect the fence are furloughed — not working because they’re government employees.”

Jefferson also wrote that while her concerns lie deeply within the survival of long-term research projects, she’s worried about the well-being of scientists themselves.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she wrote in the letter. “I can get paid and carry on with some research and teaching. (I receive funding from the National Science Foundation, which is affected by the shutdown, but hasn’t yet missed a scheduled payment for my projects.) Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal scientists must sit idle, and others must work without pay.”

She also noted instances of the direct consequences of the shutdown she has seen on Twitter, including a graduate student losing health insurance and a postdoctoral fellow expressing worry about feeding his baby.

Key departments and services shut down:

Internal Revenue Service: The IRS is unable to process tax filings, therefore U.S. residents cannot file taxes and tax returns will be delayed.

Federal Housing Administration: The FHA is unable to process mortgage requests or conduct inspections for federally-subsidized housing.

Food and Drug Administration: The FDA cannot intake regulatory submissions or conduct inspections.

Food and Nutrition Service: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will have to temporarily cut benefits to recipients.

Department of Justice: Civil litigation, victim payments and law enforcement training carried out by the DOJ are all on hold.

National Parks Service: NPS employees are not reporting to work, meaning no information or trash collecting services are functioning. Also, Smithsonian Museums and the National Gallery of Art are closed.

DiCorleto said there is little most researchers can do to prepare for a prolonged shutdown; because it’s in the hands of Congress and the president, until funding comes back, researchers have to wait and see what comes next.

“It’s a bit like the furloughed workers who aren’t receiving paychecks today,” DiCorleto said. “But as soon as the government is back in operation, they will receive their back pay.”

The shutdown started because of a dispute between the president, alongside Republican-controlled Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, and her fellow Democrats over providing $5.7 billion in funding for enhanced fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border.

In the meantime, DiCorleto said the shutdown isn’t starting a “crisis,” but will leave a lasting impact.

“It’s an impact where science gets delayed,” DiCorleto said. “It might be delayed by one month, it might bill delayed by three or four or five months.”

And in her letter, Jefferson wrote said these delays could have an impact on future careers and the field as a whole.

“Students tell me that they are rethinking their career plans,” Jefferson wrote. “They no longer see federal science jobs as a dependable choice. Graduate-school positions may be harder to attain, because programs lack funds that would normally have been awarded by now.

“Back-pay won’t replenish the loss of human capital: talent that leaves or stays away from government jobs will weaken US science for decades.”

Nicholas Hunter is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected].