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Science before, during and after the government shutdown

Flavia A Tejeda's picture
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Ilustración tomada del portal electrónico

On December 22, the federal government of the United States suffered a partial closure which lasted for 35 days, resulting in the longest governmental closure in history. This closure, the result of a budget dispute between the President and the House of Representatives, affected more than a quarter of the US government agencies. Among the affected agencies, directly and indirectly, were leading research agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In a recent publication of the journal "Science", the negative impacts of closure on the research programs of the NASA were detailed. In particular, the IceBridge study, carried out for more than ten consecutive years, was forced to reduce its last trip due to delays in the maintenance of its equipment prior to the launch of the aircraft, causing a decrease in the data to be collected to complete the study.

On the other hand, the NSF published on its website the effects that this closure would have for researchers who receive funds and those who are in the process of submitting proposals to that agency. Among them, was the cessation of announcements for opportunities in funds of the agency and the delay in review of submitted proposals. This severely affected the granting of funds for research. In a recent publication in the digital newspaper "Huffpost" it is estimated that by this date last year NSF had granted around $ 127 million in funds, money that this year had not reached the scientific community due to government closure. Upon resuming operations, NSF published a statement  detailing what will happen during these next weeks in the agency in light of the temporary reopening of the federal government. Among the priorities of the Agency during these limited operations, are the granting of fellowships to doctoral and postdoctoral students, concessions to institutions and the processing of pending applications and fellowships.

The effect of the closure was extended even to those agencies that were not closed. According to information published in the journal "Science", although the NIH continued operations, they also suffered delays in collaborations and intergovernmental working groups, as well as tasks that depend on programs or tools managed by other agencies. For example, evaluation panel meetings were affected due to the inability to access the Federal Register which ceased operations since last month. However, the opportunities for financing research projects were not affected by the government's closure.

How did this government closure affect the Puerto Rican Science? In conversations with local scientists, we found that the effects of the shutdown on  their research and laboratories was heterogeneous. While some researchers were not affected, some have reported a lack of response in applications submitted by their students to NSF last year. Although negotiations for a temporary opening of the federal government have finally been achieved, the main federal agencies dedicated to science and research will take time to resume their normal operations. Therefore, research work and science funded by agencies such as the NSF will be affected even after the government reopening, according to a recent publication in the journal "Science".

According to the agreement of January 25, the federal government will be temporarily open for three weeks if a better agreement cannot be reached between the President and the House regarding the budget, which means the government is again in danger of closing on February 15 . Due to this imminent threat, a call is made to citizens and the scientific community to contact their representatives in Congress. For this, you can access Govtrack page in which by entering your address you will be provided with your corresponding Senator and Representative. Science and our community count on us! #NoMoreShutdowns