Shutdown costs to research programs detailed in White House report
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The 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government brought new federal research activities to a standstill, according to a report by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The awarding of grants halted, and government labs were placed into costly standby mode, only to require additional resources for restoring operations days later.
On average, NSF issues 765 grants and extensions during a two-week period. With 98% of NSF employees furloughed, no new grants or grant continuations could be issued during the 16-day hiatus. The shutdown also forced NSF's Antarctic research program into caretaker status, resulting in the cancellation of some research activities for the entire 2013–14 season. Among those activities are long-duration space science research missions that use balloons as platforms for research on cosmic rays and other phenomena. Significant costs were incurred to begin placing the NSF-operated Antarctic facilities into caretaker status, which entails minimum human occupancy, and then returning them to operational conditions, the report said.
Four of the five Nobel laureate researchers who are current federal employees were furloughed. Three of them are 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 OMB report stated. The fourth works on the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA.
Suspension of operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's two telescopes in Greenbank, West Virginia, and at the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico, as well as the 10 Very Long Baseline Array sites across the US, jeopardized research projects that required continuous data. About 500 hours of observing time were lost at Green Bank, half of which is seasonal and cannot be rescheduled. Over 600 hours of observing time were lost at the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array. Moreover, observatories ceased support for about 2700 users who were processing existing data or planning new observations. As a result, range of projects that detect radio waves emitted by astronomical objects and advance state-of-the-art signal processing were affected. The loss of observing time and user support will also impact both undergraduate projects and graduate students seeking data for thesis projects, the report said.
The Department of Energy and its contractors are likely to have lost at least three weeks of mission work, or about 6% of the year's productivity, due to the preparations for the safe shutdown and resumption of facilities that the weapons laboratories were forced to make.
At NIST's research reactor, about 70 experiments by academic and industry researchers could not be performed, and the cost of the lost beamtime was approximately $2 million, OMB said.