October 21, 2013 | The Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 became law on October 17, ending a 16-day partial government shutdown. The law reopened the federal government by providing FY 2014 appropriations for all annually-funded federal projects and activities—at a rate equal to FY 2013 post-sequester spending levels—through January 15, 2014.
The federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA/OAR), and NASA, all experienced significant disruption during the partial shutdown.
During the course of the shutdown, the media reported on some of the impacts on federally funded science (see box, below). For example, climate and other geoscience research in the Antarctic was put on hold, calling into question the ability to proceed with planned work for the 2013–14 summer season. Researchers were required to leave their research stations and critical data has been put at risk (Government Shutdown Freezes Climate Science, Scientific American, 10/11/13, accessed 10/17). NOAA's National Climatic Data Center was unable to update data sets for use in research and NOAA research vessels were sent back to port. From the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to NASA Science to the U.S. Geological Survey, research scientists were furloughed and unable to continue their work.
As NSF reopened, the acting director issued some initial guidance that calls on foundation staff to focus on reestablishing core functions, such as receiving, reviewing, and awarding/declining proposals, as well as oversight and management of existing awards. All advisory committee meetings are cancelled through December, and panel and principal investigator meetings should be postponed through the end of October. NSF expects to issue more detailed guidance before the end of October regarding policies for proposal deadline extensions and other grant-related actions.
Under the appropriations law, agencies and departments will be funded at FY 2013 spending levels through January 15. In addition, the law allows funds for critical weather satellites, including the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) and GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program, R Series), to be apportioned up to the rate necessary to maintain their launch schedules.
Congress must pass another funding extension or an annual appropriation by January 15 to permit the federal government to continue operating beyond that date. Further complicating the FY 2014 appropriations cycle, a second round of sequestration is set to take place on January 15, as required under the Budget Control Act of 2011. Unless Congress revises the Budget Control Act, sequestration in FY 2014 will keep overall discretionary funding to at least $19 billion below FY 2013 post-sequester spending levels. As a result, some agencies will receive less funding in FY 2014 than they received in FY 2013.
In the meantime, the appropriations law establishes a negotiating committee consisting of members of Congress tasked to come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan. The negotiating committee is expected to issue budget recommendations by December 13, and those recommendations will likely play a role in negotiations leading up to the January 15 funding and sequester deadlines.
Importantly, the appropriations law also extends the debt limit through February 7, 2014, allowing the nation to continue to borrow funds in order to meet its obligations. The law also allows the Treasury Secretary to use so-called "extraordinary measures" to continue federal borrowing for up to several weeks beyond February 7.
Washington Update is a service of UCAR Government Relations to keep the atmospheric and Earth system science community informed about federal budget and policy news affecting science. Please direct questions to Mike Henry, UCAR Government Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org.