The federal shutdown is creating headaches for scientists by hindering research planning and putting an abrupt halt to travel for some academics. However, the worst effects is expected to materialize in the coming weeks.
Lawmakers last year passed legislation funding the majority of federal agencies, including the Education Department and the National Institutes of Health. But they left town before resolving a dispute over a border wall demanded by President Trump and without funding several agencies that are big supporters of research at colleges across the country — among them the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For academics whose work is supported by the federal government, the shutdown means they can’t communicate with most employees at those affected agencies. Moreover, some federal data will be unavailable to researchers or the public. The shutdown also creates uncertainty over the next round of research funding awards, as proposals aren’t processed and peer-review committees aren’t meeting. As it persists, unanswered questions over funding will have a ripple effect on the status of professors, postdocs and graduate students. New funding uncertainty means many of the hard science programs whose work is funded by agencies like NSF may be less likely to offer positions to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
For academics who rely on federal funding, government shutdowns are becoming somewhat familiar. The shutdown that began in December is the third since the beginning of 2018. By Tuesday, it will enter its 18th day. The last multi week shutdown, in 2013, lasted 16 days. The longest ever federal shutdown lasted 21 days, spanning from 1995 to 1996.