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  • David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.
 

Report Tallies U.S. Shutdown Costs

8 November 2013 11:30 am
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Astronomers lost some 500 hours of observing time at the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia as a result of the U.S. government shutdown.

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Lost time. Astronomers lost some 500 hours of observing time at the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia as a result of the U.S. government shutdown.

A new report from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget fills in a few more details on how last month’s 16-day U.S. government shutdown affected research. The 27-page tally of the shutdown’s costs, released yesterday, concludes that that disruption cost the government at least $2 billion in lost productivity and helped nudge up the nation’s unemployment rate.

A few science-related excerpts (bold, italics, and underlining from the report):

  • “During the 16-day shutdown, Federal government employees were furloughed for a combined total of 6.6 million days,” including 16,000 days at the National Science Foundation and 192,000 days at NASA.

The shutdown:

  • Put on hold most Federal government support for new basic research, due to furloughs of 98 percent of NSF employees, nearly three quarters of the NIH, and two thirds of the CDC. For example, no new NSF grants or grant continua­tions were issued during the shutdown; on average, NSF issues about 765 grants and continuations in a two-week period.”

  • Delayed efforts to combat invasive species that are endangering Great Lakes fisheries. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists were unable com­plete field-testing of a technology to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. The window of opportunity to field test this technology was missed, due to cooling water temperatures, and testing will now be delayed for six months. Work was also delayed on other invasive species projects, includ­ing research on the spread of dangerous Africanized honeybees in the South­west, invasive grass species involved in intensifying wildfires, and white-nose bat syndrome impacting bats in national parks.”

  • Prevented access to state of the art instruments at NIST [the National Institutes of Standards and Technology] that researchers from the private sector and academia rely on. For example, access was denied to the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), impacting researchers from academia and industry who had scheduled experiments months in advance. Ap­proximately 70 experiments scheduled at the NCNR months in advance could not be performed. The financial loss due to lost beamtime was approximately $2 mil­lion.”

  • Stopped the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s operations at its facilities in Charlottesville, VA, Greenbank, WV, and Socorro, New Mexico, as well as 10 Very Long Baseline Array sites across the United States. During the shutdown, no new observations were made at these facilities, jeopardizing on­going projects, especially research requiring continuous data. Approximately 500 hours of observing time was lost at Green Bank Observatory; almost half of which was high frequency observing time that is seasonal and cannot be resched­uled. Over 600 hours of observing time were lost at the Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array.”

  • “… NASA and NSF had to cancel their Antarctic-launched long-duration space science research missions for the year because NSF cannot reopen facilities in time to get research balloons off on schedule. The balloons are used as a platform for space science research into phenomenon such as cosmic rays and the Big Bang.”

  • Prevented the USGS from gathering and processing data on natural disas­ters. The USGS lost an opportunity to gather information on damage caused by the Colorado floods, including landslides, debris flows, and other activities. The loss of these data significantly reduces the ability of scientists and disaster re­sponse professionals to learn from these extreme events. The shutdown also im­pacted the capacity of the USGS to deliver information to states on potential pol­lution caused by record flooding in the South Platte River Basin.”

  • Disrupted operations at the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories. “Restoring normal operations at the National Nuclear Security Admin­istration can take more than a week and labs and plants are likely to have lost at least three weeks of mission work, or about 6 percent of the year’s productivity, due to the shutdown.”

  • Cut back flu season surveillance and monitoring, as well as other public health monitoring. CDC cut back its annual flu vaccination campaign for a peri­od of time and suspended its weekly “Flu View” report, leaving local public health authorities without access to complete national flu season data for two weeks. CDC staff also discontinued analysis of surveillance and molecular epi­demiologic data to identify clusters of linked Hepatitis and Tuberculosis cases that cross State or local jurisdictional boundaries.”

  • Prevented the enrollment of patients in NIH Clinical Center studies. Alt­hough the hospital remained open for patients already enrolled in studies, NIH could not enroll new patients into current studies or start new studies during the shutdown, except for patients with life-threatening or urgent medical problems. During the shutdown, NIH admitted 25 patients, who had a life threatening or ur­gent medical problem, but seven clinical protocols that were scheduled to begin during the period of the shutdown were delayed.

  • Furloughed four out of five Nobel Prize-winning researchers currently employed by the Federal government. Three of the Laureates who were furloughed work at NIST, performing cutting edge research in physics that could have broad commercial applicability in areas such as advanced communications, cyber secu­rity, and computing. The fourth furloughed Laureate works at NASA on the new, much more capable, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.”