Rhoda Baer/National Eye Institute

Slow-mo. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health say the U.S. government shutdown greatly slowed their momentum, and it could take months to get experiments going again.

NIH Scrambles to Catch Up After U.S. Shutdown

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Grants staff members at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who came back to work yesterday after the 16-day government shutdown ended will now need to catch up on a backlog of research proposals and canceled peer-review meetings. Exactly how all this will play out isn’t yet clear, and angst is rising in the blogosphere about how researchers seeking new funding for their projects will be affected.

Yesterday, NIH extramural research chief Sally Rockey announced on her blog that NIH was back in business and added a warning:

However, the shutdown came at one of our busiest periods and it is going to take some time to bring the extramural program back to full strength.  As of today we can confirm that we will be rescheduling all October grant application submission deadlines to dates in November so that applicants will have access to NIH staff, help desks, and electronic systems. The specific revised due dates will be published in the NIH Guide as soon as we worked them out. We expect the eRA Commons and other NIH extramural electronic systems to be up and accessible to the public on Monday, October 21.

Review meetings were missed during the shutdown will need rescheduling and others that were to occur right now or next week may also will need to be cancelled to allow reviewers enough time to have access to applications and complete their reviews.

In a brief notice, NIH explains that all peer-review meetings scheduled for 1 October through 17 October are being rescheduled. This includes hundreds of meetings, according to a statement this morning from the NIH press office.

According to a tweet posted on the DrugMonkey blog, some peer-review meetings will be canceled altogether and the proposals will be added to the next round of review panels starting in February. That double duty prompted worries that reviewers will be overwhelmed: “I can't help but think sitting on a section is going to go from being intense but manageable to being a real nightmare,” gingerest wrote. But DrugMonkey points to a bright side: Some researchers may take advantage of the chance to pull their proposals and resubmit them with fresh data.

Meanwhile, patients are again being admitted to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. But elsewhere on the campus, where about 6000 researchers work in intramural laboratories, the shutdown “has resulted in a profound loss of momentum,” NIH said in its statement. While some projects “continued at a greatly reduced pace,” the majority were put on hold. It may take “many months” to restart these hundreds of experiments, NIH says.

Posted in People & Events, Policy, Scientific Community Shutdown