U.S. shutdown begins: ‘It’s disheartening, ... discouraging, ... deflating’

U.S. shutdown begins: ‘It’s disheartening, ... discouraging, ... deflating’
The shutdown will not directly affect a number of major science agencies because they are already fully funded under spending bills signed by Trump. Those protected agencies include the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the departments of energy and defense.

But the shutdown will scramble operations at a number of other agencies that fund or conduct research. That list includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Geological Survey, the Agricultural Research Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service. Overall, agencies will be forced to furlough about 380,000 employees . (An additional 420,000 essential employees involved in critical activitiessuch as air traffic control and military missions, or keeping spacecraft flying and laboratory animals alive will be required to work without pay.)

Past shutdowns have proved costly and disruptive (this is the third this year alone). As a result, science groups are expressing alarm. 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, Rush Holt, chief executive officer of AAAS (whichpublishes ScienceInsider), said in a statement.

Some lawmakers are also worried. "I want to point out that our federal science agencies have a long history of working hard on research and education programs that return huge payoffs to the American people. Those agencies are basically closed for business today," said RepresentativeEddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who will become chair of the House of Representatives science panel next month."As Ive noted in previous shutdowns, as our competitors in other countries surge ahead in their R&D investments, we have basically shut down a large chunk of our federal science and technology enterprise. Shutting down the government is an embarrassment and the president should not be proud of it.

It is not yet clear how long this shutdown might last, although Trump has said it could be a "very long time." Agencies are preparing for the worst. Heres a taste of what they might face:

The Smithsonian Institution (SI) will use remaining funds from budgets that Congress has already approved to keep operating through New Years Day, it said in a statement.Its popular public museums will be open, except for a traditional Christmas Day closure. And the institutions broad array of research conducted by some 500 staff scientistsincluding studies in ecology, archeology,and paleontologywill have a weeks reprieve too.

After that, says Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist who directs the Human Origins Project at the SIs National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C., the shutdown will leave him unable to lead writing and discussions of manuscripts involving several dozen co-authors across the U.S. and other countries. We are not allowed to use our Smithsonian/government email accounts during a shutdown, which prevents communications that are at the heart of collaborative science.

Another NMNH scientist who asked not to be identified spent Friday afternoon scrambling to prepare for a long-planned scientific expedition abroad for which they mightor might notbe granted permission to leave as planned on 29 December.

Its disheartening, its discouraging, its deflating. All those d-words, they said as they surveyed the piles of satellite maps, sample bags, and notebooks they were planning to cart home yesterday, in case they got the go-ahead.This person also worries about early career colleagues who will be counting on their guidance during the expedition.

If I get on the plane next Saturday and am in my field area by the 1stof January and theres a complete shutdown, I will have to come back. I will feel like I am not fulfilling my responsibility to the science that I am trying to do and especially to my colleagues. Meredith Wadman

Perhaps no agency will have a higher percentage of its workforce furloughed than NASA, where some 90% of its 17,586 workers would be sent home, according to a plan released last week. Exceptions are made for supporting missions in progress, such as the International Space Station and its astronauts, along with operations of, for example, essential satellite and robotic missions.

If the shutdown lingers through the new year, it could complicate what was meant to be a highlight for the agency: the New Horizons spacecraft s first flybyon New Years Dayof an original resident of the Kuiper belt, the far-flung flotilla of planetary grist on the edge of the solar system. The New Horizon s team, which is run by Johns Hopkins University s Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, will continue to work. So will the engineers behind NASA s Deep Space Network, the massive radio antennas that enable communication with the space agencys robotic fleet. But a shutdown could shutter NASA s vaunted publicity machine. Twitter accounts could close. Press releases would remain drafts. Even the agency s TV channel would go dark.

Beyond the potential of such a media fumble, a shutdown that dragged into 2019 could start to cause serious delays for missions in development. The Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, is technically a NASA contractor, so work could likely continue on its $2.5 billion Mars 2020 rover, which must hit a narrow launch window. But should the mission hit a point where the approval or review of a NASA employee is needed, all work would then stop.

A similar story could play out for the delayed James Webb Space Telescope, currently in the hands of contractors for testing. And even NASA s return to human spaceflight, via the "commercial crew" vehicles developed by Boeing and SpaceX, could be postponed, including an uncrewed launch of SpaceX s Dragon planned for next month from NASA s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Paul Voosen

There will definitely be a disruption in the grantmaking process, says Amanda Greenwell, head of NSFs Office of Legislative and Public Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia.It also means scientists and university administrators wont be able to talk with NSF program managers if any questions arise about NSF-funded research. But NSF has no in-house labs, Greenwell noted, and the contractors that run major NSF-funded facilities such as observatories and research vessels have enough money in their accounts to weather a short-term shutdown. Jeffrey Mervis

According to a shutdown plan posted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most activities would halt at its Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the in-houseresearchagency, and at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture(NIFA), which houses the agencys competitive grants program.

And many agencies will have just skeleton crews because of furloughs. Just four of the 399 NIFA staff would continue to work, another USDA document indicates , and just about 18% of ARSs staff of 6285 would be exempt from the shutdownincluding senior leaders and those involved in the protection of research property and data where significant damage could result if unattended for any period of time. Kelly Servick

With campuses in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado, NIST employs some 2900 scientists, engineers, administrators, and support staff. The agency runs six laboratories for advancing measurement science and standards to help U.S. companies. Most will be furloughed, but more than 500 staff members are expected to stay on part- or full-time to oversee proper shutdown of equipment ranging from a cold neutron source to nanofabrication facility, as well as ensure the safety of vital equipment and buildings. Robert Service

The agency will continue to run a collection of essential long-term data about the oceans and atmosphere and other field data. Fortuitously, all the agencys vessels are in port for scheduled winter maintenance, a NOAA official said. Jeffrey Brainard
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