Issue Date: October 7, 2013 | Web Date: October 3, 2013
Shutdown Slams Federal R&D
The federal R&D enterprise nearly ground to a halt last week when Congress failed to pass a 2014 budget. Because there was no budget when the fiscal year started on Oct. 1, the government partially shut down for the first time in 17 years.
Adding to the uncertainty is growing concern about another approaching political showdown over the nation’s debt-ceiling limit, which could further impede government operations.
As C&EN went to press, thousands of scientists were among the 800,000 federal workers who remained at home on furlough as congressional leaders continued to butt heads over a stopgap budget measure to keep the government running. Support for the Affordable Care Act was the main subject of disagreement.
Among chemists, the biggest impact is likely on federal scientists at agencies such as NIH and EPA. Many have had to temporarily abandon their research and may not be paid for missed days resulting from the shutdown.
Chemists in industry and academia are also left in the lurch. Many regulatory agencies have halted inspections, such as FDA’s food safety checks, and processing of applications, such as EPA’s premanufacture notices approving new chemicals.
The Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, an industry group, is concerned that the shutdown will halt free-trade negotiations with Europe scheduled for this week, says William E. Allmond IV, vice president of government and public relations. “It puts all of those industry priorities on the back burner.”
The National Science Foundation and other science funders have quit processing new grants, although grantees who have already received funds can spend that money. Scientists with pending grant applications cannot work on them because most government websites are not operating.
George Washington University’s chemistry department chair, Michael M. King, is most worried about junior faculty members who have grants under review. “What’s disappointing is the time and effort that is being devoted to figuring out what to do rather than doing something productive for our teaching and research,” he says.
While talks continue, some agencies are still at work because they run on user fees, including the Patent & Trademark Office and the FDA office that processes New Drug Applications. Although 70% of Department of Energy employees are furloughed, its national laboratories will continue operating on contingency funds, at least for the short-term.
“I ask you to maintain your focus during these uncertain budgetary times,” Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles F. McMillan wrote to employees. “Watch out for each other and concentrate on things we can control.”
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