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Research Funding

Ongoing US government shutdown strikes chemistry

The closure of several science agencies could mean disruptions for industry and academic chemists

by Andrea Widener
January 2, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 1


A partial US federal government shutdown is well into its second week and will likely become more disruptive for chemists now that the holiday season slowdown is over.

Many vital science agencies are shuttered or plan to close soon, including the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

“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 the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Agency scientists are forced to stay home or work without pay. Industry and academic chemists who rely on government functions such as paying grant funds or reviewing chemical safety data will be forced to wait until the shutdown is resolved. In addition, many websites are down or not being updated, leaving vital data unavailable.

This shutdown is already one of the top 10 longest in history, and it is not clear when it will be resolved. President Donald J. Trump is demanding funding for a border wall that Congress is, so far, unwilling to provide. Democrats took over the US House of Representatives on Jan. 2, which could spark negotiations to resolve the conflict.

“The American Chemical Society is disappointed that the administration and Congress were unable to come to a bipartisan agreement on a funding bill for 2019,” the organization said in a statement. “ACS calls on both parties to set aside partisan differences and work together to finalize a spending agreement.” ACS publishes C&EN.

Meanwhile, most agency employees are likely eager to get back to work. January and February tend to be a particularly busy time for NSF’s Division of Chemistry, so the shutdown is just creating a backlog. “It puts the federal government workers behind. It is not like the workload softens up,” says Angela Wilson, who until recently was head of NSF’s Division of Chemistry. “It just makes for some pretty challenging times.”

Wilson says her first thoughts are with the agency’s staff, who will not be paid during the shutdown. If the shutdown continues further into January, the closure will likely mean disruptions in grant application deadlines, review panel meetings, funding payments, and more, says Wilson, who recently returned to her academic position at Michigan State University. She currently is waiting for a no-cost extension of a grant, which has been delayed by the shutdown.

Another complicating factor is that the affected agencies still don’t know their budgets for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2018, she points out. Any major cuts or changes this late in the fiscal year could be disruptive.

Science agencies are not allowed to lobby Congress. “It is really up to the chemistry community to visit their legislators,” Wilson says, and tell them about the importance of chemistry.”


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