Gov Relations

Partial shutdown ends

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.

Antarctic researchers with PistenBully and submersible research vehicles
Researchers prepare a remotely operated submersible vehicle for deployment at Cape Evans, Antarctica, in 2005. (Photo by Stacy Kim, National Science Foundation.)

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.

Summary of community-relevant provisions of new CR law

  • Science agencies funded at current FY13 levels through Jan. 15
  • Debt limit extended through Feb. 7
  • Congressional budget conference established; tasked with creating long-term deficit reduction plan by Dec. 13
  • Back pay for furloughed workers
  • Spending flexibility for JPSS & GOES-R weather satellites
  • Increased federal emergency aid to Colorado for flood recovery
  • More income verification requirements for recipients of health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act

What it means

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.

Recent news reports on the shutdown and science

The long shadow of the shutdown (Nature: Comment, 10/18/13, accessed 10/18)

Science resumes in Antarctica, but shutdown's impact remains (McClatchyDC, 10/17/13, accessed 10/21)

Shutdown’s quiet toll, from idled research to closed wallets (New York Times, 10/11/13, accessed 10/18)

US government shuts down: Research disrupted as lawmakers spar over funding (Nature News, 10/01/13, accessed 10/18)

US government shutdown: Possible effects at PLOS ONE (PLOS ONE Community Blog, 10/01/13, accessed 10/18)

The government shutdown of science (screenshot montage, Jonathan Eisen, via Google+, 10/1/13, accessed 10/18)

 

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, mhenry@ucar.edu.

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