Shutdown threatens University research

Federal workers who review grant applications have been furloughed.

by Alexandria Chhith

Because of the U.S. government shutdown, federal funding for new research at the University of Minnesota could be at risk.

With application deadlines fast approaching, the process for federally funded research grants at the University is inactive, though officials are confident accommodations will be made to fill funding gaps.

According to a statement from Brian Herman, the University’s vice president for research, new grant awards are expected to be delayed during the shutdown, but the University will help “bridge short-term gaps in funding.”

The government shutdown began Oct. 1 after legislators were unable to pass a budget resolution with an amendment added by Republicans in the House of Representatives that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Because nearly 800,000 federal government employees have been furloughed — put on temporary, unpaid leave — many government agencies are closed or operating with minimal staff.

Applications for federal research grants are usually reviewed by a panel of federal workers. But those workers have been furloughed, halting the process for obtaining new funding.

Researchers are particularly concerned about an Oct. 5 deadline passing without federal government agencies — specifically The National Institutes of Health, which is the University’s largest federal funder — being active and able to process applications.

Associate pharmaceutics professor Jayanth Panyam said Oct. 5 is one of three deadlines throughout the year for his colleagues’ grant proposals to be accepted, and he’s hoping for a grace period and more flexibility.

Pamela Webb, the University’s associate vice president for research, said because the shutdown came without warning and researchers didn’t have time to make arrangements, federal funding agencies may accept funding proposals after deadlines.

A University statement released Tuesday said University officials have been working with federal agencies and University researchers to prepare for the shutdown and are monitoring the situation closely.

Webb said the longer the shutdown lasts, the stronger the effects at the University will be.

“It absolutely is the case that, sooner or later, it will hit most of our federal portfolio,” she said.

Each month, the federal government awards the University about $53 million in research grants, according to the statement from Herman.

Research grants that have already been awarded won’t be disrupted, according to Herman’s statement. The University must continue to submit research reports and updates to the federal government in order to receive those funds.

But Panyam said if the shutdown continues for longer than a few days, there’s a chance that grants that have already been awarded could be reduced.

And with uncertainty about when the shutdown will end, it’s unclear how research will continue.

“How do you pay the graduate students, and how would the graduate students do their research?” Panyam said. “This is going to affect all of us.”