Government shutdown. It sounds scary enough, but whether or not this had a direct impact on your life during the last sixteen days of shutdown and its immediate aftermath depended on your connection to the federal government. With the government back up and running (or not, some may argue), I’d like to take a moment to highlight the effects the shutdown had on the center of BSR’s universe: science—Berkeley graduate student science, to be specific.
For those who have been too absorbed with things more awesome (like science) to pay attention to the antics of those in Washington, here is the synopsis: The Republican controlled House, in an effort to sabotage—or at least delay—Obama Care, decided to tie the fiscal federal budget agreement to the implementation (or lack thereof, rather) to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care, which, by the way, had already been voted on fair and square). The budget decision was not actually linked to the Affordable Care Act, but was being wielded as a post-bargaining measure. Elephants said they wouldn’t agree to a budget unless it delayed or repealed Obama Care; Donkeys said they wouldn’t sign anything that stripped that which had already been agreed upon. In a nutshell: no federal budget decision = no funding = government funded programs came grinding to a halt.
What did this mean for scientists?
We can loosely categorize government funded research—and the severity of shutdown impact—into three groups: intramural, extramural, and contractors. Intramural researchers conduct research at the government’s own facilities, and are paid directly by the federal government. Intramural organizations include big players like the NIH (National Institute of Health), the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and NASA. These intramural entities were basically closed for business. Don’t worry, the mice at the NIH were still fed—their caretakers were exempt from furlough. Some animals had to be sacrificed unnecessarily, however, and the breeding of important NIH-maintained transgenic lines was halted. Petri dishes remained unchecked. NIH was still delivering to cancer patients, but new patients could not enroll. Hubbell was still delivering data from outer space, but there was no one on the ground to analyze it.
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