Costs Mount as Government Shutdown Drags On

As government offices and research facilities across the country remain shuttered and services delayed or interrupted, the partial government shutdown that has resulted in 800,000 federal workers being furloughed or forced to work without pay has accomplished one thing - it has set a new record for how long the President and Congress have failed to govern the country.

The costs associated with the shutdown continue to grow. Beyond the pain inflicted on federal workers, contractors, and grantees, economists now estimate that the shutdown is having real and significant negative effects on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Kevin Hassett, Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, now estimates that the shutdown will reduce quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage point each week. Hassett doubled his forecast after initially underestimating the economic impact of the shutdown. To put things into perspective, the economic growth in the first quarter of 2018 was 2.2 percent. Other economists also predict losses in the first quarter of 2019, including New York Federal Reserve President John Williams, who thinks the shutdown could cut quarterly U.S. economic growth by 1 percentage point.

Prior to and subsequent to the shutdown, Congress endeavored to pass appropriations to fund the government. Prior to the beginning of the 116th Congress in January, the House and Senate were poised to pass bipartisan appropriations legislation only to have the effort thwarted by the President who at the eleventh hour said he would veto the measure. Rather than passing the legislation and forcing the President to carry out his veto threat, Congress capitulated. Congressional Republicans allowed the government to shutdown to force a standoff between the President and congressional Democrats at the start of the 116th Congress - a shutdown the President famously announced from the Oval Office that he would own. Upon taking control of the House of Representatives in January, Democrats approved appropriations legislation - the measures previously unanimously approved by the Senate in December, only to have Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) refuse to bring the measure to a vote in the Senate. Senator McConnell is now working on legislation that would fund all agencies in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall money and other immigration reforms, based on a proposal put forth by the President. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), however, dismissed the President’s proposal and is insisting that any negotiations on immigration and border legislation take place only after the government is funded and back to work.

The budget impasse is a threat to science, with shuttered federal agencies unable to award grants until they are funded again. Research conducted by a significant number of federal agencies has also come to a halt or is significantly limited. Currently, the shutdown directly affects the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Smithsonian Institution, State Department, Census Bureau, United States Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, among others.

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AIBS: Support Science, Fund the Government

The American Institute of Biological Sciences, on January 18, 2019, issued a statement expressing concern for those being impacted by the government shutdown and for the long-term impacts of the shutdown.

The statement reads:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) wants federal employees, including thousands of scientists, being hurt by the continuing political impasse and failure to fund the federal government to know that they are not forgotten. Not forgotten also are the countless individuals being harmed because contracts are not being funded and new grants are not being awarded to carry forward research and science education programs.

AIBS President, Dr. Charles B. Fenster, emphasized that we all know dedicated scientists who work for the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, United States Geological Survey, National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, State Department, Census Bureau, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I encourage all of us to keep our colleagues in our thoughts and to reach out to them as they continue to endure this unwarranted penalty,” said Fenster.

“This shutdown is irresponsible and it is doing real harm to people, the economy, and science,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS Executive Director. “It is past time to open the government. Political fights over a wall can be conducted without destroying the morale of public servants, threatening people’s well-being, and damaging the economy. It is reprehensible to demand that federal workers be called to work without pay simply to mask the real negative impacts of this failure to govern.”

As described in a 2016 AIBS report, the “Federal government is the main supporter of basic research in the United States, providing more than half of funding.” More than 80,000 patents were awarded in a ten-year period based on the results of research originally sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Over the past 50 years, roughly half of the economic growth at private businesses has been due to advances in knowledge resulting from research and development.

The statement is also available here: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20190118aibsstatement.html

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Science in the New Congress

On January 3, 2019, 111 freshmen, including 10 newly elected Senators and 101 newly elected Representatives, were sworn-in to the 116th Congress. Eleven of these freshmen members of Congress, including eight Democrats and three Republicans, have a background in science, medicine, or technology.

Below is a summary of expertise that has joined the new Congress.

  • Representative Joe Cunningham (D-SC) is a former ocean engineer, who earned his BS from Florida Atlantic University and also holds a law degree.
  • Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL), is a registered nurse. She holds master's degrees in nursing and public health from Johns Hopkins University and served as a Senior Advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration.
  • Representative John Joyce (R-PA), is a dermatologist.
  • Representative Kim Schrier (D-WA) worked as a pediatrician and has a bachelor's degree in astrophysics.
  • Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) is a biochemist and a former cancer researcher. Casten has also worked on clean energy technology.
  • Representative Kevin Hern (R-OK) is a businessman with a degree in aerospace engineering
  • Representative T.J. Cox (D-CA) is a chemical engineer.
  • Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA) is an engineer with experience in operating nuclear reactors in the Navy.
  • Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) is an engineer who worked on air and space defense technologies in the U.S. Air Force.
  • Representative Mark Green (R-TN) is a former Army physician.
  • Representative Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) is a dentist.

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Turmoil at NEON as Advisory Panel Disbanded, Reinstated

Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit government-contractor that manages the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) for the National Science Foundation (NSF), has reinstated a NEON science advisory panel that it had disbanded a week earlier.

The twenty-member Science, Technology, and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), which is comprised of external scientists who advise NEON, was disbanded by Battelle soon after NEON’s Chief Scientist and Principal Investigator, Sharon Collinge, resigned over the firing of two senior managers without her knowledge. Some members of the panel had threatened to resign in support of Collinge.

Battelle’s decision to dissolve STEAC met with dissent from panel members, who penned a letter asking Battelle to reinstate the advisory panel. According to a report by Science, Ankur Desai, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a member of STEAC, said that Battelle “just burned some of the most prominent ecologists in the country…This has put the project at massive risk.”

This outcry prompted Battelle to reinstate the panel. An apology was issued by a Battelle official, who invited panel members to meet with the project’s Acting Chief Scientist, Eugene Kelly. “My decision to dissolve the STEAC was based on my erroneous assumption that such advisory bodies were routinely reconstituted at the change of leadership of NSF large facilities,” stated Michael Kuhlman, Battelle’s Chief Scientist. “That was incorrect, and I accept full responsibility for my error.”

NEON is an 81-site U.S. ecological research facility, which collects and provides data from ecosystems across the United States. NEON is currently transitioning into operation as its construction nears completion. Battelle was awarded the contract to manage NEON in 2016, after NSF removed the original contractor.

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Participate in the 2019 Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on March 25-27 for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

Meet with your members of Congress to help them understand the important role the federal government plays in supporting the biological sciences. Advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

Participants will complete a communications and advocacy training program provided by AIBS that prepares them to be effective advocates for their science. AIBS also provides participants with background information and materials, as well as arranges meetings with lawmakers.

Supplemental training program: In conjunction with the 2019 AIBS Congressional Visits Day, AIBS is offering its highly acclaimed Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This professional development training course will be offered on March 25-26. All participants who complete the course will receive a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 12 hours of communications training. This professional development training program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, professionals, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media.

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration will close on February 8, 2019. Space is limited and it may not be possible to accommodate the participation of all interested individuals.

Register at: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html

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Short Takes

  • House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has announced the Chairpersons leading the various Appropriations Subcommittees. Representative Sanford Bishop (D-GA) will chair the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration panel; Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY) will lead the Commerce-Justice-Science panel, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) will chair the Interior-Environment panel; Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will head the Labor-HHS-Education panel; and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) will chair the Energy and Water Development panel. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) will serve as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

  • Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) has been elected to serve a second term as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. He previously served in this position from 2007 to 2011.

  • Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier has been confirmed by the Senate to be the next Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a position that had been vacant for the past two years. Dr. Droegemeier, a meteorologist and extreme-weather expert, was confirmed along with 76 other Presidential nominees on January 2, 2019, the final day of the 115th Congress. Mary Neumayr has also been confirmed to head the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), where she was previously serving as the Chief of Staff.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers. The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Botanical Society of America. AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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