The ongoing U.S. government shutdown, engineered by House Republicans in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (more popularly known as Obamacare), has temporarily forced over 800,000 federal employees out of their jobs. The furlough’s most visible impact has been the shutdown of “non-essential” facilities such as the World War II Memorial in Washington, Yosemite National Park, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. But behind this public scene, a host of researchers employed by the government are being kept from their work by the latest budget crisis. The following links demonstrate five ways in which the shutdown is hampering scientific progress.
Environmental Protection Agency – The EPA has sent over 93 percent of its employees home during the shutdown, including the bulk of the Office of Air and Radiation, the regulators behind the implementation of new air pollution targets. Without their guidance, industry will find it more difficult to design less harmful processes and reduce the emissions that underlie global climate change.
NASA – The federal space agency is also operating with a skeleton crew; roughly three percent of its 18,000 employees are still reporting for duty. Without these technicians and scientists, it will be impossible to launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter during the window when Earth and Mars are properly aligned. If the shutdown isn’t resolved quickly, liftoff could be delayed until 2016.
National Institutes of Health – For the public, the shutdown means that the NIH Clinical Center in Boston, often a last resort for the experimental treatment of difficult diseases, will be unable to accept new patients. For the science community, it means that the review of grant proposals for lifesaving research may be delayed indefinitely; a notice posted on the NIH website urges scientists not to submit applications during the shutdown.
PubMed – Ensuring free access to the over 23 million biomedical journal citations listed in MEDLINE, the database of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed is an invaluable resource for doctors and researchers. Yet as of today, the website’s homepage warns users that “it is being maintained with minimal staffing due to the lapse in government funding. Information will be updated to the extent possible,” which indicates that new publications may not be added to the database at the rate necessary for scientists to stay current
Centers for Disease Control – The CDC has furloughed 68 percent of its workforce, including the staff who monitor the spread of illnesses across state borders. Programs that determine which types of seasonal flu are prevalent and where are also tabled, which is of particular concern at the start of the winter flu season.