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News Release 96-001

Government Shutdown Impact on Science Grows More Serious

January 5, 1996

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

As the second government shutdown continues toward a fourth week, the impact on the nation's scientific research is becoming apparent. About $100-120 million in research grants by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have gone unmade since the shutdown began December 15, delaying the support of some 2,000 people to carry out research and education activities. This figure grows by about $10-12 million daily.

During the shutdown, the National Science Foundation (an independent federal agency charged with maintaining the health of all non-medical fields of science and science education) cannot process research grants or other awards to the more than 2,000 institutions it regularly supports. "The situation is beyond frustrating, " said NSF Director Neal Lane. "It is now endangering the nation's science research and education base, and many of the advances the nation has come to take for granted will be in peril soon if this budget impasse isn't resolved.

NSF's annual budget is about $3.2 billion annually. All but four percent is used for research and education awards made through competitive merit review. On an average day, NSF normally receives about 240 proposals for science and engineering research and education, and makes about 80 awards. Each day the shutdown continues represents lost or delayed support to some 200 people (scientists, engineers, students and teachers).

Dozens of proposal review panels, meetings, and workshops have already been cancelled or are threatened. Continuing grants that have expired (such as the second or third year of three-year grants) are not being paid; 156 such grants expired on December 31, and another 266 will expire on January 31. Major research institutions funded by NSF, such as astronomy observatories and science and technology centers, are facing payroll problems and deferral of their own contracts.

All of NSF's six research directorates--as well as the science education directorate, the science and technology centers program, the Antarctic research program and various interdisciplinary and interagency programs--have been affected by the shutdown.

Specific examples include:

  • The San Diego Supercomputer Center is unable to meet lease payments with computer vendors and is suffering a $23,000 penalty every 15 days for failure to meet its contractual obligations.

  • The Antarctic research program has just enough funding to finish out the current summer seasons, but the funding hiatus jeopardizes next year's summer research season. The two Anarctic research vessels may be forced to cease operating, which would forego the upcoming winter research cruises and postpone vital ocean sciences research activities.

  • The National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO) in New Mexico, West Virginia and Arizona are seeking ways to carry over funding from other sources in order to continue operations. The National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Arizona and New Mexico face possible layoffs unless contract deferrals are arranged.

  • A new research program in optical science and engineering is jeopardized by the cancellation of a major review panel involving at least 100 people to review more than 600 proposals.

  • Technical support to state, urban and rural education reform projects funded by NSF has been suspended, which may adversely impact these multi-million-dollar efforts.

  • A critical review panel for ocean sciences, scheduled to review proposals for a series of cruises later this year, has been postponed.

  • The release of the much-anticipated biennial report, Science Indicators, has been delayed.

  • Some 20 cooperative agreements with other institutions have expired and will be without awarded funding, and interagency projects are slowing or coming to a standstill.

  • The impact of the NSF shutdown also goes beyond U.S. borders; for example, NSF is planning to postpone an Executive Council meeting of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (scheduled next week), which is hosted by NSF and involves the 16 major countries of the Americas.

"Researchers funded by NSF will have to find other funds to maintain their science projects, or close them down," said Lane. "The quality operations for which NSF is frequently praised are in danger of being compromised; and, if the shutdown continues, we may have to prioritize activities for the rest of this fiscal year. In this already tough budget environment, such a prospect is very disheartening. I am anxious for a resolution to the budget impasse, so that we can return to the business of ensuring a healthy and productive future for coming generations."


Media Contacts
Mary E. Hanson, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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