TEMPORARY WORKAROUND For now, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory based in Charlottesville, Va., shown here closed during a 2013 government shutdown, is still open, funded by money left over from 2018. But if the current shutdown doesn’t end soon, it may be forced to close again.

As the partial federal government shutdown enters its fourth week — on January 12 becoming the longest in U.S. history — scientists are increasingly feeling the impact. Thousands of federal workers who handle food safety and public health are furloughed. Countless projects researching everything from climate change to pest control to hurricane prediction are on hold.

Among government agencies hit by the partial shutdown are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, where nearly all employees are on leave. Additionally, 40 percent of the Food and Drug Administration’s 14,000 workers are furloughed, as are most employees of the National Parks Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation, responsible for doling out nearly $8 billion in research funds each year, has stopped awarding grants and has canceled review panels with outside scientists that are part of the process. In 2018, NSF gave out $42 million in grants from January 1 through January 8, but this year, nothing has been funded so far, Benjamin Corb of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology noted in a statement January 8. Such stalled funding is leading to a backlog that could slow down approvals long beyond the shutdown. Here are some of the consequences of delaying government research, and how some scientists are trying to cope.

Public safety

Both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain funded and operational. Flu surveillance is still being funded through the CDC. Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs are also safe.

But other agencies working to protect public health have scaled back operations. The Indian Health Service, which funds care for Native Americans, is in limbo. Health clinic employees are working without pay, while some grants and programs are on hold.   

The USDA is still inspecting meat, dairy and poultry products. But routine FDA inspections of produce are suspended, increasing the possibility of a foodborne illness outbreak. Given that worry, the agency hopes to resume inspections of high-risk facilities prone to outbreaks, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Washington Post.