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Govt. Shutdown Disrupts U.S. Science

U.S. Capitol

(A. Kotok)

30 Dec. 2018. As the shutdown of many federal operations in the U.S. extends into its second week, many science labs inside and outside government are feeling the effects. Several agencies that run or finance labs are closed, due to the lapse of funding for about a quarter of federal departments that began on 22 December. It’s the the third funding-related closure of federal operations in 2018.

The shutdown results from late demands by President Trump for another $5 billion for a wall built on the U.S. southern border to stop illegal immigration. The Senate last week agreed on a deal to fund the government through 8 February, which appeared to have sufficient bipartisan support to pass in the House of Representatives. Republican members of both houses believed the measure would be signed by the president, but Trump on 20 December announced he would not sign any bill without funding for the wall. In a well-publicized Oval Office meeting with Democratic congressional leaders earlier in December, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government if border wall funding, a prime campaign promise, was not in the bill.

Science agencies completely closed or maintained with staff working without pay, according to Science magazine, include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service. National Science Foundation, or NSF, a major funder of research in the U.S. is also shut down.

NASA is furloughing 95 percent of its staff, according to Space.com. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates drugs and medical devices, is without funds as well, although its web site says the agency will “continue to the extent permitted by law, such as activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life and activities funded by carryover user fee funds.”

For government-run labs, the shutdown means missed data-gathering opportunities that disrupt ongoing research. The Washington Post quotes an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland that an extended shutdown will mean missing a chance to record once-in-a-lifetime astronomical phenomena. In addition, if panels at NSF to review funding proposals cannot meet in early January as scheduled, funding for new research will be stopped or delayed, with cascading effects on labs and researchers expecting that flow of funds.

“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,” says Rush Holt, CEO of American Association for the Advancement of Science, in an organization statement. “The U.S. innovation system relies on robust investments in science and engineering to serve the public good.” Holt, a former member of Congress from New Jersey, adds, “Continuing resolutions and short-term extensions are no way to run a government.”

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