Partial government shutdown affects UC Berkeley research funding

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Some UC Berkeley research groups will not receive federal funding and may have approval for their research proposals delayed because of the partial government shutdown.

Several large organizations that fund UC Berkeley research closed as a result of the shutdown, including the National Science Foundation, or NSF, NASA, the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture.

“These government agencies represent about a third of the federal funding per year that comes to Berkeley,” said UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz. “Funds from NSF and NASA can range up to $150 million per year.”

According to Katz, the 2019 budgets for some agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, were approved by Congress before the shutdown and remain unaffected.

The majority of research projects supported by the open sections of government have received funding for the rest of the year.

“There are a small number of projects that are waiting for their next increment of funding, but the majority of NSF projects have already been funded,” Katz said. “I am aware of a small number of projects that will run out of funding if the shutdown continues for another month.”

Currently, the campus has received one stop-work order from the California office of the Bureau of Land Management on a five-year project for some research taking place at the UC Botanical Garden.

Twelve postdoctoral researchers, paid directly by NSF, will not receive their January paychecks. They are thus hesitant to plan any research-related trips and are spending time on shutdown-related activities instead, losing “valuable” research time.

“It’s also been an additional layer of stress, not knowing when I’ll next get paid,” NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellow Sarah Cannon said in an email. “I would have to find an alternate funding source before my savings run out, which could take even more time/effort. The lack of pay is the main effect I’m feeling (from) the shutdown.”

According to Katz, the university has a plan to “cover” the postdoctoral researchers by providing them with a no-cost, no-interest loan for January.

Katz said the financial impact from the January 2019 government shutdown on UC Berkeley’s research enterprise is “very modest.” He believes that the government will be able to catch up from the lost time, resulting in minimal long-term effects.

“However, if this goes on for another two or three months, we might see big problems in the fall because of the natural delay in that process of proposals being submitted to the federal government, sent out for review, selected for funding and then finally getting funded,” Katz said.

Stanley von Ehrenstein-Smith covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @von_ehrenstein.