Government Reopens, Science Struggles to Recover

American Geophysical Union Responds to the End of the Government Shutdown and Its Impacts on Scientists and R&D

17 October 2013

Washington, D.C.—The government shutdown may be over, but its impacts on the Earth and space science programs the U.S. relies on to protect public health, provide stability to our economy, and support our national security are not.

One of the hardest hit areas was the availability and collection of data, including inspections. During the shutdown, farmers and city planners were unable to access government-collected water quality and soil moisture data that is critical to real-time decision making. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not able to conduct many of its air, water, and hazardous waste inspections; much of this data cannot be recovered. These inspections are critical to protecting public and environmental health.

In addition, gaps in data collection may cause long-term damage throughout the Earth and space sciences. For example, researchers studying climate history in Antarctica lost a valuable portion of their field season, an activity that is crucial to our understanding of climate change and volcanoes, among other things.

According to AGU Executive Director/CEO Christine McEntee, “Continuous data collection and monitoring, and our ability to make that information available to the public, is essential to science’s capacity to support public services. Nature happens in real time. We can’t hit rewind to see what we missed.”

The shutdown also came at possibly the worst time of year for grant review and processing. Because the National Science Foundation and other agencies have such rigorous procedures, the postponement and possible cancellation of review panels, and the backlog of processing resulting from the shutdown, will delay the launch of some research efforts. This could irrevocably damage the viability of these projects, including their ability to serve the needs of the American people.

Another troubling result of the shutdown is its potential impact on the STEM pipeline. Already, unstable and insufficient funding has hampered Earth and space science research in recent years, making these fields less attractive to students. The shutdown—and the looming threat of another possible shutdown this winter—sends the wrong message to these students about the attractiveness of a career as a government scientist. McEntee added, “The nation’s place as a world leader in scientific research and innovation will be seriously jeopardized if this kind of ‘brain drain’ is allowed to continue.”

“As Congress continues its budget negotiations,” McEntee noted, “We urge policy makers and government officials to recognize the fundamental knowledge science provides our nation, work to mitigate the damage created by the shutdown, and protect funding for Earth and space science research.”

The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 62,000 members in 144 countries. Join our conversation on FacebookTwitter, YouTube, and other social media channels.

Contact: Joan Buhrman, +1 202 777 7509, [email protected]