Science shutdown blues

posted in: News | 3

We’ve heard a lot in the news about the closed state parks and monuments, but there hasn’t been much talk aimed at the general public about how science is being affected by the abrupt end of government business. The goal of this post is to collect shutdown information that might be of interest to Biofortified readers – in other words, shutdown news related to science, agriculture, and food.

A plant science research lab, shuttered during the federal shutdown. Credit: KJHvM

I’ve spoken with quite a few friends about how their science has been affected by the shutdown but few have spoken out about the details. We want to hear from you… any government scientists, or any scientists or anyone else affected by the closure of all these great science agencies. We understand if you must stay anonymous, but still wish to hear your story.

Some quick background… Federal employees, unless they are deemed “essential”, would be breaking the law if they volunteered to work during the shutdown. This is based on a law called the Antideficiency Act. The GAO (Government Accounting Office) states that federal employees are prohibited from “accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property”. Doctors taking care of patients at the NIH research hospital are essential. Technicians caring for research animals (in some cases) are essential. The majority of government scientists are not essential, therefore can not work during a shutdown – if they did, they would be breaking the law.

I’ll keep updating this page as I see more links posted on Twitter and Facebook, share in the comments if you see one that I’ve missed.

And here are the government websites that are affected (ht 99trumpets for starting a list).

  • Anastasia Bodnar

    I’d like to share a little about my own work and how it could be affecting scientists all over the US. Of course, these are my own opinions and are not the opinions of my employer! Indeed, how could they be, since my employer is closed in the shutdown and it would be against the law (the Anti Deficiency Act to be specific) for my employer to be making any opinions at this time. If any other govies comment here we will assume that the case is the same for them – we all speak for ourselves only.

    My day job is as a regulator of biotech crops. Field trials, interstate shipments, and international imports of biotech seeds have to be approved by my office. This includes any plantings or shipments planned by scientists from both universities and corporations, from companies big and small. Now, some may read this and say that they don’t care about any economic impacts, that they are glad Monsanto can’t plan any more shipments or trials at this time. But there’s more than just Roundup Ready soybeans or Bt corn at stake. Many scientists work on biotech crops with goals other than profit in mind. Their research may be designed to figure out some basic biology of plants, things that will help us better understand how plants work, which could help us breed stronger plants in the future. There’s also many projects with humanitarian causes in mind, including development of crops that have higher nutrition, that can resist stresses like salt and drought, or that require fewer inputs. None of this research (probably) would have had massive results today if not for the shutdown. But if the research is slowed, then not only this step will be delayed but the next step and the next.

    One good thing about being furloughed is that I have time to work on Biofortified! You should see quite a few guest posts going up soon and perhaps I’ll have to write some of my own as well. What are you doing with your furlough time? Consider writing a Guest post!

  • MaryM

    This isn’t my work, but my colleague is having this program likely to be derailed:

    For example, I have been planning and organizing a meeting here at NSF for educators in computer science for persons with disabilities. It has entailed everything from getting rooms settled to setting agendas to choosing reviewers to procuring ASL interpreters and translating documents into Braille. If the shutdown continues into next week, that meeting will be canceled and all attendees will be unable to come.

    Nice, huh? A program to help the disabled access appropriate educational strategies. Probably vaporized and all that time and money wasted, while services go undeveloped.

    • Anastasia Bodnar

      Oh that’s really terrible.
      Thanks for sharing that link – I hadn’t seen that excellent post at Open Helix about the shutdown and its effects on science.