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Government Closes for Business

As lawmakers in Washington have reached an impasse in budget negotiations, the US federal government, lacking funds, has shut down.

Government workers deemed to be essential are still to work, while others are being furloughed. For example, much of NASA will be sent home, but Mission Control will be staffed to support astronauts at the International Space Station. Similarly most staff at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health, will be sent home, but those involved in patient or animal care are to stay. As our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News reported yesterday, some 40,500 HHS staff members, or about 52 percent of the staff, are to be furloughed.

Indeed, Nature News reports that 73 percent of the 18,646 NIH employees have been placed on furlough and nearly all — 98.5 percent — of US National Science Foundation employees were told to stay home. Workers are restricted from checking their email or phones, even remotely.

Services, too, are affected. Both NIH and NSF have stopped processing grants, Nature News reports.

"Applicants are strongly encouraged not to submit paper or electronic grant applications to NIH during the period of the lapse," an NIH guidance says. It adds that currently funded extramural research may continue, though submitting progress reports will have to wait until eRA Commons or NIH staff are available again. And, Nature News adds, even when the government comes back online there will be delays as the agencies play catch-up.

A note at PubMed says that the database is being minimally maintained.

As are social media and other outreach services. "Due to a lapse in government funding, new posts and responses may not originate from this account until appropriations are enacted," says a post at the US National Institutes of Health Director's Blog. Similar messages appear on other governmental accounts, both at NIH, NSF, and elsewhere. The popular Panda Cam pointing at a panda cub at the National Zoo is offline, though zookeepers say the animals are still being cared for, according to the New York Times.

"This is ridiculous," Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, tells Nature News. "We can't continue to survive as a research community this way."

The New York Times notes that the "the next legislative steps [remain] uncertain."