US Government Shutdown Ties Up $139.2 Million in Grant Funding

NSF director asks for forbearance and vows to start processing the backlog

The American Society of Biochemistry and Micro Biology (ASBMB) has posted a study of the effects of the US government shutdown on the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant process. According to the tally, which is available at the ASBMB website, the 0 grants totaling $0.0 during the shutdown period between December 22, 2018 and January 25, 2019 contrasts with 465 grants totaling $139.2 Million awarded during a similar period a year ago.

The ASBMB page does not discuss the effects of the funding delay. The money has already been allocated by the Congress, so grant agencies could theoretically “catch up” by increasing their rate of funding for the next few months. However, even if the total funding for the year is equal, the delay could still disrupt the continuity of ongoing projects, especially at universities and other institutions tied to the academic calendar, as administrators assess their space and funding needs and postdocs scramble to lock in employment for the next academic year.

A notice at the NSF site entitled “Resumption of Operations at the National Science Foundation” offers thanks to the scientific community for “forbearance during this challenging time.” NSF Director France A. Córdova vows to begin “… processing the backlog of awards to universities and small businesses, rescheduling merit review panels that were cancelled, funding facilities and renewing oversight of those facilities, and funding graduate student and postdoctoral fellowships.”

The other question is whether this shutdown era is actually over yet. The continuing resolution that reopened the government expires on February 15, which will result in another closure unless a solution is in place.