Shutdown Leaves Science Agencies with Large Backlog

Feb 1, 2019

President Trump recently announced that a deal had been reached to end the government shutdown. Totaling 35 days, the longest government shutdown ended when President Trump signed a piece of stopgap legislation that reopens all affected agencies for three weeks, through February 15.

Despite the shutdown being over, many science agencies are struggling to resume the normal operative status quo. Major science agencies that were closed include the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Among the litany of tasks facing these agencies are the updating of their public-facing websites. These websites are one of the primary ways agencies communicate with the public, but since the shutdown they have remained unchanged, reflecting only announcements from the beginning of December.

For agencies that provide grants and awards such as the NSF, getting back on track and reviewing the backlog of applications will be neither quick nor easy. “Nobody has looked at any of that stuff,” David Conover, vice president of research at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and a former ocean division director at NSF explained in an interview with Science Magazine. “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.”

If a new agreement is not reached by February 15, there is the possibility that Congress and the White House will agree to a further extension rather than another shutdown. To avoid another shutdown, Congress and the White House must come to an agreement regarding President Trump’s $5.7 billion wall along the Southern border.