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After shutdown, research stalled

As the government reopens, it’s unclear how University research will be affected.

The government shutdown could have been detrimental to University of Minnesota researchers, but for now it’s only a speed bump.

University departments survived the 16-day shutdown mostly unharmed, but furloughed federal workers and a lack of federal funding has slowed research. It’s possible there could be another shutdown next year, and researchers said they’re still unsure of how the effects of this one will trickle down.

A standoff over the federal budget and President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul caused the shutdown, which threatened to send the nation into default before legislators arrived at a last-minute deal Wednesday to reopen the government until January.

“The effects of a long-term shutdown are difficult to quantify at this time. We expect minimal short-term impacts,” Vice President for Research Brian Herman said in a statement  Oct. 1.

The University receives about $53 million each month from the federal government to support research grants, according to the statement. Herman said the University will help bridge any funding gaps researchers have.

Research stalled on eight projects because of the shutdown, according to an Oct. 18 memo from the University’s Office of Sponsored Projects Administration.

Michael Osterholm, director of the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said the center’s influenza research program was halted.

“Basically all of our programs have been furloughed, so we have not had any communication with the [National Institutes of Health] staff,” he said Tuesday.

An influenza crisis during the shutdown could have been detrimental to public health, Osterholm said, because CIDRAP wouldn’t have been able to respond at full strength.

“Not having the ability to communicate really does hold back our efforts,” he said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta experienced a similar struggle, according to the Associated Press. The shutdown slowed the CDC’s response to a salmonella outbreak that sickened people in 18 states.

Federal funding stress

Though the shutdown didn’t directly affect the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, some research proposals will be affected, said associate dean of research Mike Schmitt.

Federal grant proposal submissions are staggered so agencies can process and award them at different times, Schmitt said, and because of the delay, researchers could see gaps in awarded funding.

Ecology, evolution and behavior professor Marlene Zuk’s grant proposal was put on hiatus because of the shutdown. Researchers who have submitted grant proposals to the National Science Foundation or the NIH are most concerned, Zuk said.

“Everyone’s been checking the NIH website frantically to see if there’s any updates,” she said.

“Whether [proposals will] be postponed or submitted late, no one has any idea. I’m assuming things are changing by the minute.”

After the government reopened, the NIH warned researchers that funding would not resume quickly, the Associated Press reported.

Schmitt said the Office of the Vice President for Research told researchers they could delay their proposals until the shutdown ended or submit them to the OVPR, which would hold onto them.

“The shutdown does create a little backup,” he said. “The pipeline of proposals being submitted or projects will now need to be taken care of within the next few weeks or months.”

After the federal government reopened Thursday, Associate Vice President of the Sponsored Projects Administration Pamela Webb posted new submission deadlines for proposals online.

But relief is only temporary. The bill, which Obama signed early Thursday, will fund the government until Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.

“For the future, we’re suddenly scrambling,” Schmitt said.


The Associated Press

contributed to this report. 

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