Tag Archives: US government shutdown

The 2013 US government shutdown and its eventual impact on Canadian science and elewhere

While there’s a growing list of commentaries and editorials, notably, the Oct. 1, 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) news release, about the impact that the 2013 US government shutdown is having on US Science, I haven’t yet come across anything specific about the potential impact on science in Canada (and elsewhere). From the AAAS news release (Note: A link has been removed),,

“If the Government shutdown continues for a week or more, it is going to make the United States less desirable as an international research collaborator,” said Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Office of Government Relations. [emphasis mine] “When funding is no longer reliable, many of our research partners may be unable to continue collaborating with us. That could eventually have longer-term impacts on American innovation and competitiveness.”

Furloughs will impact the vast majority of staff at the National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, except for those directly responsible for the protection of life and property, which likely would include support for the agency’s Antarctic research facilities and personnel. “NSF will be sending notices to research grant awardees, informing them that payments won’t be made during the disruption, although research that doesn’t require federal employee intervention may proceed,” said Matthew Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 40,512 employees, or 52 percent of all staff are expected to be furloughed. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in particular, the furloughs will send 73 percent of employees home. Remaining NIH employees will continue to provide both in-patient and out-patient care, but the NIH Clinical Center will not be able to accept new patients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities,” according to an agency statement. “The FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.”

Most of the 13,814 employees of the U.S. Department of Energy will be furloughed, leaving only a few hundred staff at the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Literally a handful of regular DOE staff would remain on the job within the Office of Science and programs for efficiency, renewables, nuclear power, and fossil energy, including ARPA-E, but as contractor entities the labs will be shielded for a time,” Hourihan said. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is responsible for identifying “out-of-the-box” energy solutions not supported by industry research.

NASA’s shutdown contingency plan ensures support for the International Space Station and its astronauts as well as other satellite missions now underway. No new contracts or grants will be issued by NASA, however, and most pre-launch development work will end.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) offers a listing which breaks down the percentages of staff being furloughed in an Oct. 1, 2013 news item. Here are the numbers for some of the departments and agencies which are considered part of the US science establishment:

  • Department of Defense 50% on furlough
  • Department of Energy 69% on furlough
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 93% on furlough
  • Department of Health and Human Services 52% on furlough
  • Department of the Interior 81% on furlough
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 97% on furlough
  • National Science Foundation 99% on furlough
  • The Smithsonian 83% on furlough

Neither the list on the CBC website nor the AAAS news release offers furlough numbers, if any, for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Given the importance of collaboration on the Canadian science scene this shutdown doesn’t bode well. I don’t have numbers but I’m assuming that the US is Canada’s largest single country source for collaborative research. On a related note,, I had someone tell me (at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference) that the US National Institutes of Health fund a significant portion of the medical and health research performed in Canada. (If someone knows the numbers, please add a comment or contact me at nano@frogheart.ca).

Closer to my home, I wonder how *MDA (headquartered in Richmond, BC, Canada; *I mentioned the company and its space robotics programme in a May 1, 2013 posting concerning the than new Canadian $5 bill) which has US Department of Defense contracts and NASA contracts is going to fare? As well, Nigel Lockyer, the executive director for TRIUMF, Canada’s particle and nuclear physics laboratory, who announced his Fall 2013 departure for the US Fermi Lab (my June 21, 2013 posting) is walking into a rather thorny situation.

On a personal note, I received a travel stipend last year (to present at the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies 2012 conference) from US National Science Foundation (NSF) funds disbursed by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Something tells me the NSF may not be offering that type of funding for a long time to come.

Canadians talk a lot about ‘punching above our weight’ with regard to our research but that ability has been aided immeasurably by US funding and collaboration. We ride, to some extent, on our neighbour’s coattails. (I am aware that simultaneously while ‘punching above our weight’ we have also complained our international standing in science research is deteriorating,, which makes for a lively, if at times confusing discourse.)

Canada will not be the only country to experience an impact from the shutdown as the US science community has enthusiastically embraced the notion of international collaboration.

As this shutdown continues another financial deadline will be reached on Oct. 17, 2013 when Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, ceases to have money in the US Treasury to pay bills unless Congress passes a motion to raise the limit on government borrowing (CBC, via *Associated Press, Oct. 2, 2013 news item).

One final thought, I can’t help but wonder what impact this financial instability will have on US scientists and their desire to pursue their research interests. It is possible the US will lose some of its best and its brightest, not necessarily the established researchers but those who have yet to fully establish their careers.

* Links to MDA website, mention and link to May 1, 2013 added and ‘Association’ changed to ‘Associated’ on Oct. 3, 2013.