July 19, 2018 | ° F

US shutdown still impacting Rutgers researchers

Photo by Getty Images |

Everglades National Park in Miami, Fla., is one of many national parks reopening after the US government shutdown ended last week. Researchers at Rutgers are still waiting on updates for research grants from federal agencies.

The U.S. government is officially back open for business. But while the national parks, museums and Panda Cam are getting back to business, some people and organizations are still feeling its effects.

According to an article by CNN, President Barack Obama signed a bill early Thursday morning that ended the 16-day shutdown. The resolution came within hours of the country crashing into the debt ceiling, which would have resulted in the government running out of money and being unable to pay its bills.

The debt cushion now extends through Feb. 7, with current spending levels being authorized through Jan. 15, according to the article.

Edward Tate, director of communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, said the shutdown influenced certain steps in the research process.

Photo: Getty Images

Everglades National Park in Miami, Fla. reopened last week after the US Government shutdown ended.

“The greatest impact was on the process of submitting proposals for new grants,” he said.

Rutgers receives grants from more than 220 agencies, said Terri Kinzy, associate vice president for research administration for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Researchers now have to closely monitor the agencies for changes in deadlines and review panels.

The website that was previously used to post updates about the government shutdown is now being used to post updates about the start-up, Kinzy said.

“The people who work for us and the research agencies have a really challenging job, as far as dealing with the shutdown and rescheduling everything,” she said. “We are asking our faculty, and the agencies that are posting these hardworking people are doing their best.”

Some of the agencies, like the National Science Foundation in Virginia, will continue to see some delays as they figure out how to move forward, Kinzy said.

The shutdown also affected projects in the field, she said. The NSF has a lot of large projects off-site, including a research project in Antarctica monitored by Xenia Morin, grant facilitator supervisor for the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The Antarctica program is a long-term ecological project, headed by Oscar Schofield, a professor of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Morin said.

“Oscar has been going to the Antarctic for over 20 years, and he leads a group of scientists from multiple institutions to travel to Antarctica for the summer field seasons,” she said. “These go from October to January or February.”

The project studies a large range of biological and physical changes in Antarctica, Morin said. Schofield focuses on the biological research and looks at food chains.

Along with Schofield and his ecological research, scientists are also looking at individual species within the Antarctic, she said.

“There are people who specialize in whales, who specialize in penguins, who specialize in aquatic life,” she said. “They go down and collect information about what’s there, quantities and those kinds of things.”

The project is highly specialized and requires continuous data collection, Morin said. Researchers stay on the continent collecting data anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

“If people can’t get down to the Antarctica field stations, then we will miss out on a whole year’s worth of data,” she said.

Prior to the shutdown, Morin said Schofield had already sent some graduate students down to start collecting data. Once the shutdown occurred, he had to call them and tell them to pack up and come back.

“I don’t know where they were in the packing up when the funding was reinstated,” she said. “I don’t know if they are on a boat returning as we speak.”

In an email statement, Schofield said the shutdown ended before researchers faced any problems.

“[We] won’t have a clear picture of the broader efforts in Antarctica until probably next week,” he said.

By Shawn Smith

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