U.S. Shutdown Fallout Continues as Agencies Reschedule Grant Panels

National Science Foundation/National Institutes of Health

U.S. Shutdown Fallout Continues as Agencies Reschedule Grant Panels

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Research agencies are spelling out how the 16-day U.S. government shutdown has affected grantmaking efforts—and how they will try to catch up. The reshuffling could mean delays of 4 months or more for some applicants and a lot more work for some reviewers. And at least one academic researcher worries that the disruption could be career-ending.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), the shutdown forced the cancellation of 98 review panels involving 811 scientists, acting NSF Director Cora Marrett told reporters during a teleconference today.  “They will all have to be rescheduled,” she said, but the agency isn’t yet ready to provide details. 

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), officials canceled more than 200 peer-review meetings involving thousands of scientists and more than 11,000 applications. Because the shutdown fell smack in the middle of one of the agency’s thrice-a-year review periods, many peer-review panels will now meet early next year.

NIH describes its plan, which officials had hinted at earlier, in this notice posted late Friday and in this blog post from NIH extramural chief Sally Rockey. “Due to the shut-down timing, it is extraordinarily complex to reschedule all these deadlines and reviews,” Rockey writes.

To catch up, NIH has moved October due dates to November, and those who had submitted during the shutdown have the option to “refresh” their application.

The biggest shock is for investigators who thought their proposals would be reviewed in October. “[I]t is impossible to manage the logistics of rescheduling hundreds of review meetings in the next six or so weeks,” Rockey writes, so many meetings will now be held in February or March and the final review step—by individual institutes’ councils—will be moved from January to May.

This means that researchers will have to wait longer to get word about their grants. It also means many reviewers will do “double duty”—they will review twice the usual number of proposals. Although “a far from an ideal situation,” writes Rockey, “we believe this is the most manageable and equitable approach.”

That has not stopped a wave of comments on Rockey’s blog and the DrugMonkey blog from investigators worried about the changes. “All grants submitted in these two cycles will be negatively affected as reviewers will be overwhelmed,” wrote Derek Abbott on Rockey’s blog. He and others begged Rockey to try to schedule more meetings in November. “In my opinion, postponing an entire review cycle will be disasterous [sic],” Abbott wrote.

Another scientist named Tenure-Track Asst Prof wrote that she (or he) needs a funding decision sooner than June to remain in a tenure track position: “[T]he consequences of this decision could very well be career-ending for those of us who are in need of external funding for re-appointment.”

At NSF, Marrett said she’s asked senior managers “to tell me about the most urgent panels” so that the agency can figure out the best way to reschedule its workload. “We can’t so readily restart everything,” she explained, noting that the logistics—rebooking plane tickets and hotel rooms, plus conference space at NSF—are daunting. The agency will also reschedule submission dates that fell during the shutdown for applicants responding to program solicitations, a process that Marrett said will have a ripple effect on future solicitations as well.

Marrett noted that 385 staff members at the NSF-funded National Radio Astronomy Observatory were furloughed during the shutdown, along with 82 people working in the North American office of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array operating in Chile. But she said that the NSF-funded academic fleet was not affected by the shutdown, and that only minor adjustments are needed in planning the official dedication of NSF’s new Arctic research vessel, the Sikuliaq.

Posted in Funding, People & Events, Policy, Scientific Community Shutdown