October 7th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Shutdown and Bound

After what seems like years of threatening to shut down the government over fiscal disagreements, Congress finally followed through on something. Senate Democrats and House Republicans failed to agree on the terms of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded beyond fiscal year (FY) 2013, forcing a government shut down to begin on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years. Leading up to the shutdown, Senate Democrats insisted on a “clean” CR, with no major policy riders attached, while House Republicans insisted on attaching provisions related to limiting implementation of The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

We’re now seven days into the shutdown with no end in sight. What began as a stalemate over FY 2014 spending has now merged with another larger–and many would say more chilling–debate over the need to raise the debt ceiling which will be reached on October 17th. The Department of the Treasury released a Report on Macroeconomic Effect of Debt Ceiling Brinkmanship on Thursday outlining the devastating effects a default could have on the economy.

While Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated that he won’t let the government default, he reiterated over the weekend that the House won’t consider a debt ceiling bill without some Republican priority provisions attached. The President on the other hand, has insisted repeatedly that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, the House continues to consider small spending bills that would re-open certain parts of the government such as national parks, the Veterans Administration, and even the NIH (after reports that terminally ill children were being shut out of potentially lifesaving clinical trials). These bills won’t make it into law, however, as Senate Democrats and the President have indicated that they won’t pick and choose which agencies should get to open. The House also passed a bill to provide back-pay to federal workers who are currently furloughed, but it is not clear when that bill might be considered by the Senate.

Over the weekend, The Secretary of Defense announced that most civilian defense employees and many contractors will be back on the job today, and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security followed suit for Coast Guard civilian personnel. These workers are protected by the Pay Our Military Act, which was signed into law by the President on Monday just before the shutdown.

On Capitol Hill, each office has decided which staffers are essential to their operations, so work continues but mostly behind the scenes. Members of Congress were sent home yesterday for a brief respite from the fiscal fight, but will return this evening to continue negotiations. In the last few days, I’ve heard more talk of trying to reach the ever elusive “grand bargain,” which would address deficit reduction, the sequester, spending, taxes, and entitlements once and for all. Given Congress’ previous luck in enacting such a grand bargain, however, it is hard to remain optimistic.

So what does this mean for your research? Many factors will play into whether or not a research project will be disrupted, including the duration of the shutdown, which federal agency is funding the research, how the research is funded, and what federally supported infrastructure you rely upon to conduct your research. For specific details on each research agency’s shutdown guidance, I recommend you stay tuned to the updates provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) R&D Budget and Policy program. You can also visit this White House website to read the shutdown plans for all federal agencies.

To date, stories on research impacts have related primarily to personnel furloughs. These include program managers and those who administer grants and contracts, so if you have a question to ask about your research grant, you’re probably going to have to wait. Most federal agency websites are also shuttered, so that funding announcement you’re looking for? Hopefully you downloaded it before the shutdown. While some agencies are still accepting grant applications during the shutdown, NIH and NSF have indicated that all review panels are on hold, which will delay the consideration of and awarding of new grants. And existing grants may run into funding troubles as the shutdown drags on.

Many scientific conferences are also feeling the loss of federal representation, or being cancelled all together.  A series of government-funded telescopes have been shuttered, affecting researchers who rely on the equipment. NASA’s extensive public affairs efforts are shutdown for now, but some of its critical missions will continue, including the International Space Station and the University of Colorado Boulder-led MAVEN mission to Mars that is scheduled to launch next month.

The impacts to research will no doubt intensify the longer the shutdown continues. If your research has been disrupted, Science wants to hear from you through twitter @ScienceNews or #essentialscience.

Also of Note

Agriculture. The University of Wisconsin Madison, in conjunction with the USDA, launched a new Agricultural Innovation Prize to “educate, support, and celebrate the next generation of agricultural innovators.” This prize, modeled after the DOE-sponsored Clean Energy Prize, was created after a recent PCAST Report to the President on Agricultural Preparedness and the Agriculture Research Enterprise which highlighted existing challenges facing the country’s agriculture system under increasing stress.

Research. The President signed the The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527) into law, much to the relief of many researchers and high tech industries who rely on a robust helium supply.

Science reports that before the shutdown, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee was poised to release two bills that combined would essentially reauthorize The America COMPETES Act, first passed in 2007 and then again in 2010.  The first bill, The Frontiers in Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act would reauthorize the NSF, NIST, OSTP, and STEM programs.  The second bill, The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act will authorize the DOE Office of Science. Of note, this second bill will purportedly not include authorization for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a relatively new DOE research agency that was originally authorized in first America COMPETES Act.

The research community is watching closely to see if these bills will include language to address what House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) views as shortcomings to the peer review system and the awarding of certain “silly sounding” social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) research grants. These concerns were reflected in a draft bill released several months ago entitled The High Quality Research Act, and more recently in a USA Today op-ed by the Chairman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) entitled  Rethinking Science Funding.

In Print

There has been much local and national coverage of the shutdown’s impact on research–far too much for me to cover here–but I’ve included a few below.

Joel Achenbach writes in the Washington Post about  impacts of the shutdown on NIH clinical trials, NASA, and DOE.

Meg Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, writes for CNN about how the Shutdown [is] a huge waste and cost to science.

Brandon Keim describes in Wired How the Shutdown Is Devastating Biomedical Scientists and Killing Their Research.

The AAAS posted a useful summary of research agency actions in response to the shutdown.

SpacePolicyOnline has been providing a day-by-day summary of shutdown impacts on NASA.

On a different topic, Eileen Pollack explores in The New York Times Why There Are So Few Women in Science.

What’s on Deck

While most Committee offices are closed or short-staffed due to the shutdown, there will be a few hearings this week. I highly recommend confirming with the committee that the hearing will take place before heading to Capitol Hill.

Tuesday (10/8)

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a business meeting to consider the nominations of Michael Connor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior and Elizabeth Robinson to be Under Secretary of Energy.

Thursday (10/10)

Friday (10/11)








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