US Science Agencies Reopen After Shutdown
US Science Agencies Reopen After Shutdown

US Science Agencies Reopen After Shutdown

The consequences of the partial government closure could be long lasting.

Jan 27, 2019
Kerry Grens

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, MINGZHEZHANG

On Friday (January 25), lawmakers ended the longest partial government shutdown in US history and agreed to open federal agencies for three weeks as they negotiate President Donald Trump’s demand for a wall along the southern border. Scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA, and other research offices that had been closed for more than a month will now return to work—but the month-long shutdown will have a lasting effect.

The Smithsonian Institution, for instance, lost income from visitors, to the tune of about $5 million, Nature reports. And a source tells Science that staff at NSF will have to address a backlog of funding awards that were not sent out and schedule review panels for some 2,000 grant proposals.

“Nobody has looked at any of that stuff,” David Conover, vice president of research at the University of Oregon and a former ocean division director at NSF, tells Science. “And NSF may want to wait a while to see what happens in Congress before they think about rescheduling everything, because they could be shut down again.”

See “Government Shutdown Keeps Young Scientists in Limbo

The shutdown has affected science in myriad ways, halting not just administrative work, but research projects, employees’ and grantees’ paychecks, and business development. The funding to open shuttered agencies therefore comes as a relief to federal workers.

“I think this is good news,” a scientist at the US Geological Survey, who asked to remain anonymous to prevent retaliation by his agency, tells Nature. “The key here is whether or not we will receive missing paychecks during this time, and trying to prepare for what happens three weeks from now. There's a lot of uncertainty.”

According to Reuters, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration, said staff at his agency would receive back pay by this Thursday.