Restarting the federal government; not like throwing a switch

The 35-day government shut down finally ended on January 25, 2019. Getting the operations of the federal government up and running again, however, has not simply been like turning on a switch. The impact of the shutdown on federal science agencies went beyond those agencies that were formally closed for more than a month.

At those agencies with no budgets, the effects ranged from almost a complete stoppage of agency operations and no pay for most employees for the length of the shutdown to overflowing email inboxes when employees returned. At the National Science Foundation (NSF), one of the agencies still without a budget, more than 100 grant review panels scheduled for January had to be canceled, stipends for NSF fellows were not sent, and applications for the next round of fellowships have been delayed.

In a message to the NSF community, NSF Director France Córdova welcomed the fact that the agency was open for business but acknowledged that the government is only open for three weeks, pending a final resolution of funding for the wall along the Mexican border.

Córdova said, “After a long and difficult lapse in appropriations, the agency is operating under a three-week continuing resolution. This means we will not be able to conduct ‘business as usual,’ and we will have to set priorities for what we do first.” She listed the processing of grant awards, rescheduling of review panels, the funding and renewed oversight of facilities, and renewed funds for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships as priorities.

The NSF has a webpage that will continue to be updated with the most up-to-date information on new grant deadlines and other post-shutdown information.

Even agencies with approved funding for Fiscal Year 2019 experienced difficulties during the shutdown. All federal agencies are required to provide the public with notice of their events and activities. These notices are posted in the Federal Register, a voluminous book printed each day in an 8-point font by the National Archives and Records Administration, one of the government agencies closed during the shutdown. As far as the government is concerned, if it’s not in the Federal Register, it didn’t happen.

With no daily Federal Register, the U.S. National Institutes of Health was not able to provide proper notice for study sections and peer review panels, which put the grant-making system at risk. Now that the operations of the federal government are slowly turning on, another shutdown of the same agencies looms on the horizon.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email:

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