News & Views item - October 2013



Science: "U.S. Shutdown Ends: Back to Work!" ---- Nature: "US Government Shutdown Ends" (October 17, 2013)


Science: U.S. Shutdown Ends: Back to Work!

Nature: US Government Shutdown Ends

16 October 2013 11:30 pm

And on the 16th day, they agreed to end the shutdown. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives tonight voted to end a partial shutdown of the U.S. government that has paralyzed science funding agencies, disrupted research projects and meetings, and threatened to wipe out an entire season of field studies. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation as soon as possible, sending thousands of furloughed government employees back to work as early as Thursday.

The Senate voted 81 to 18, and the House 285 to 144, to approve a bipartisan deal that would fund the government through 15 January at an annualized level of about $986 billion, at least temporarily adopting lower spending levels sought by Republicans. It authorizes back pay for furloughed workers, and authorizes the President to increase the debt limit through 7 February. Lawmakers also agreed to work out the outlines of a broader budget agreement between the House and Senate by 13 December, potentially setting the stage for a longer-term solution to the spending stalemate.

For researchers, that votes mean planned field research in Antarctica can resume after days of delay. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will resume processing grant applications that have been piling up during the 16-day layoff, and accepting new applications. Biomedical scientists will be able to enroll patients in trials and studies at NIH’s clinical research center. Science vessels operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can return to sea. Engineers can again prepare to light up the world’s most powerful laser facility, the National Ignition Facility at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Astronomers will regain access to a trio of powerful radio telescopes. Ecologists can tend instruments at long-term research sites on federal lands that were closed to access.

In some cases, it may take days to resume normal operations. And the shutdown’s impacts could linger for months, as government officials attempt to wade through piles of grant applications, emails and paperwork that piled up during the weeks they were required, by law, to stay away from their official email and phone messages.  

In an 11 October memo, National Cancer Institute (NCI) director Harold Varmus warned that the research re-start could be bumpy. “[A]voiding a major crisis in grant-making and program development this year may be possible only if all members of the NCI communities are willing to help alleviate the consequences of the shutdown,” he wrote. NCI has had to postpone “several site visits to evaluate re-competing centers and large grant applications, and it has postponed more than a dozen meetings to review grant applications. Thus, the NCI’s grant review cycle could be significantly delayed, threatening a smooth restart of NCI’s support of extramural research, even if the NIH reopens relatively soon.”

“Part of the reason I am writing at this time is to prepare you for the possibility that we at the NCI (and presumably others at the NIH) will be asking reviewers and advisors to adapt to abrupt and inconvenient changes in the scheduling of meetings to review grant applications and oversee programs,” Varmus added. “These changes may require you to alter long-standing plans to attend worthwhile events.”

Some of the shutdown’s impacts on research may be impossible to undo. Lost data will never be recovered and ephemeral field events will not be repeated. Still, many researchers and science fans breathed a sigh of relief as news of tonight’s vote spread. “Non-sarcastic hugs to those at NASA who will be returning to their jobs as awesome science wizards of the stars,” tweeted Sarcastic Rover, a Twitter persona developed by Canadian screenwriter Jason Filiatrault.

  Posted by Lauren Morello  

The US government is set to resume full operations today after lawmakers approved new temporary spending legislation on 16 October.

Hours before Congress finished its work, President Barack Obama said he would sign the measure as soon as he received it — an action that would officially end the shutdown that began on 1 October, sending many government employees home and halting most activity at federal agencies.

Lawmakers agreed to fund government operations through 15 January — setting the stage, perhaps, for another budget stalemate like the one that led to the 16-day shutdown.

Now it is back to work for US government scientists, most of whom had been barred from their offices and laboratories and even their government e-mail accounts during the shutdown. “Employees should expect to return to work in the morning,” according to a message distributed by the White House shortly before midnight local time in Washington DC.

The National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and other federal agencies will also resume processing grant applications, though there is no word yet whether the shutdown will delay or cancel new awards. And US government websites are expected to come back online soon, restoring researchers’ access to key databases like the temperature information maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center and software tools like BLAST, the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, which is used widely in genetic research.



House Speaker John Boehner
seeking a sign?