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Government Shutdown Impedes the U.S. Scientific Enterprise

Scientific research projects will be slowed by a government shutdown, raising fresh concerns about U.S. innovation. | Ron Cogswell/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)

Congress’ failure to reach an agreement on a stopgap spending measure before a midnight deadline marks another setback for the nation’s scientific enterprise, interrupting activities of the nation’s federal health, science and space agencies, according to a statement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The U.S. government shutdown deals another serious blow to an already beleaguered American scientific enterprise,” said Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS, noting that spending caps on domestic and defense spending that went into effect as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act have already blunted the power of American innovation.

“Federal research and development as a share of gross domestic product has declined from 1.25% of GDP to 0.82% of GDP today, which is a near 40-year low,” said Holt.

The Senate’s failure to pass a new stopgap spending measure late Friday triggered a partial government shutdown – the first since October 2013, beginning the shuttering of “non-essential” agencies throughout the government, furloughing federal workers and closing federal facilities.

The Energy Department’s Offices of Science and its applied technology programs, the National Institutes of Health, the Agriculture Department’s research and development programs, the National Science Foundation and NASA are among research agencies impacted.  

Citing the consequences of spending reductions and uncertainty on federal research and development programs, Holt added, “Operating under a post-sequestration funding environment has stressed our innovation system and the United States risks losing our global leadership in science.”

The Senate’s sidelined continuing resolution would have been the fourth Congress has passed since the 2018 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2017.

Continuing resolutions are spending mechanisms that effectively hold federal spending levels in place and leave on the shelf spending decisions Congress has worked out in separate appropriations measures, including significant spending increases for NIH over the levels proposed by President Trump for the fiscal 2018 budget.

The House had passed a stopgap spending bill late Thursday that would have kept the government running for four weeks if it had been echoed by the Senate, after talks on reaching a budget deal stalled.

“We urge policymakers to come together and work on a final omnibus bill for fiscal year 2018 that raises the budget caps for discretionary funding,” said Holt.

[Associated image: Ron Cogswell/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)]