U.S. government back open, for now | January 29, 2018 Issue - Vol. 96 Issue 5 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 96 Issue 5 | p. 16 | News of The Week
Issue Date: January 29, 2018 | Web Date: January 26, 2018

U.S. government back open, for now

A 3-day shutdown barely affected science, but another political showdown is coming in 3 weeks
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: Research funding, shutdown

After a long-weekend shutdown, the U.S. government reopened Tuesday, Jan. 23, with only a minor impact on scientific activities. However, the threat of another shutdown looms large with less than two weeks for Congress to make a deal to avert another closure.

“Due to the lapse in government funding, National Science Foundation websites and business applications, including NSF.gov, FastLane, and Research.gov, will be unavailable until further notice. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.”

Notice on NSF’s website, Jan. 20, 2018

The fight that brought on last week’s crisis was primarily over immigration, specifically a push to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people—including chemists—brought to the country as children. Democrats agreed to a short-term spending bill to fund the government through Feb. 8 after Republicans promised to bring up an immigration bill for debate.

The shutdown began when government funding ran out on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 20. Because it started on the weekend, many federal scientists did not feel its effects until Monday morning, when they were asked to help facilitate an “orderly shutdown.”

For office workers, that meant turning on their out-of-office message and wrapping up loose ends. For bench scientists, the shutdown meant preparing their labs for an indefinite period without supervision. A minimum number of people in each agency were allowed to keep working to keep research animals alive and monitor experiments that could not be halted.

NSF’s normally extensive website reverted to a white screen displaying just its shutdown plan. Other federal websites, including the PubMed database, had a bar across the top saying that it was not being updated. Though the shutdown was short, it did cause some problems. For example, NSF extended the submission period for one grant, and it has to reschedule 10 review panels.

Not every agency closed its doors despite the shutdown order. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science and its 10 research labs stayed open because it still had unspent money. EPA also remained open.

Now federal workers and those who work with the government are hoping that Congress can get through the next funding deadline without reaching an impasse. “The American scientific enterprise depends on a functioning government that invests in scientific research, innovation, and our economy,” says Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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