When the US government was partially shut down for 35 days starting December 22, work at several government agencies ground to a halt, with a total of 800,000 federal employees furloughed. The National Science Foundation, one of the sidelined science agencies, is now addressing all that went undone during that time, NSF officials told reporters this morning (February 1).
During the shutdown, 111 review panels to award grant money were canceled. The panels convened again starting on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, said Erwin Gianchandani, the deputy assistant director for NSF’s computer and information science and engineering division. Some of the rescheduled panels will meet in person and others by teleconference, including those to assess submissions for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program.
Another priority is to pay out money previously awarded to grantees, said Gianchandani. On the first day back, grantees filed requests for about $220 million spread out over 16,000 awards. On a typical day, the amount the NSF gives out is closer to $20 million, he said.
These numbers give a sense of how the shutdown affected the agency’s activities. The NSF is still working to tally the consequences to science, said Amanda Hallberg Greenwell, head of the NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.
The agency is also working on getting missed paychecks to its employees, said Javier Inclán, NSF’s acting chief human capital officer.
Meanwhile, the specter of another shutdown looms as Congress and President Donald Trump have not reached an agreement to fund the government after February 15. While the NSF works to resume normal operations, some efforts are going toward preparing for the possibility of pausing work again.
“[W]e are meeting on a daily basis to start prepping for the possibility of a possible shutdown,” said Inclán. Because of the length of the last shutdown, NSF leaders feel they have a better sense of what to prepare for, he said.
The agency hopes to soften the effects of a February shutdown on outside research facilities that depend on the NSF for money. “Because the new continuing resolution essentially gives us a pretty big amount of funding from the December 21 time to February 15, we’ll be working to obligate sufficient funds out to our facilities, so they can continue to operate even in the unfortunate event of another lapse,” said James Ulvestad, NSF’s chief officer for research facilities.