Due to Congress’ inability to reach an accord on spending for fiscal 2014, many agencies in the federal government shut down on Oct. 1. One week after the shutdown, Democrats and Republicans seem no closer to agreement. The main players in the debate are talking, often to the media, but sometimes to each other as well. In an ominous turn for federally funded scientists, the debate over FY14 spending is becoming lumped into the debate over the U.S. debt ceiling. This means the government shutdown could extend for the entire month of October.
The exact time that we will breach the debt ceiling—the point at which the government is barred from borrowing more money to pay the nation’s outstanding debts—cannot be pinned down to a specific day. However, a large payment is due to Social Security recipients and many others on Nov. 1 and the government must also make a payment on the interest on the national debt on Oct. 31. Experts believe that, without raising the debt ceiling, the government will not be able to make both of these payments. Thus, while the Secretary of the Treasury has said we will hit the debt ceiling around Oct. 17, the absolute final date to raise the debt ceiling may actually be Oct. 31.
A month-long shutdown would cause significant disruptions to scientific research. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have stated that they will issue new deadlines for grant applications that had original due dates that fell during the shutdown. Applications for a new R01 were originally due on Oct. 5, and as the shutdown stretches on, other grant deadlines and study sections will have to be rescheduled. The ultimate effects of these delays on grant funding and scientific research in the extramural community won’t be known for months.
In addition to the issues with grant submissions, websites run by federal agencies, such as PubMed, are being minimally maintained during the shutdown and other sites, such as nsf.gov, are not even accessible. Researchers ordering model organisms from abroad will see delays in receiving these animals since the U.S. Department of Agriculture customs officers that would inspect them have been furloughed. Finally, researchers that work at the NIH are not allowed to go into lab which may threaten various strains of fly, mouse and cell populations.
The effects of the shutdown are just beginning to be felt across the country. If you would like to tell us your story, please do so in the comments section below.