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Getting Back to Work

After 16 days of a government shutdown, the US federal government is open once again. As the New York Times reports, a deal between lawmakers in Washington has funded the government through the middle of January and raised the nation's debt ceiling through the beginning of February.

Late last night the White House issued a message telling government workers that they "should expect to return to work in the morning," the Nature News Blog reports.

A tweet this morning from National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins indicates that his agency is open.

How quickly things will return to normal speed is uncertain, though. A memo from the Department of the Interior advises employees to catch up on their emails and voicemails — as well as clear out any perishable food that had been left in work refrigerators, the New York Times reports.

Re-starting scientific and grant-awarding activities may be especially slow. ScienceInsider notes that National Cancer Institute head Harold Varmus warned last week in a memo that "avoiding a major crisis in grant-making and program development this year may be possible only if all members of the NCI communities are willing to help alleviate the consequences of the shutdown." Varmus added that grant review cycles could be affected as site visits and grant review meetings have been delayed.

Additionally, the long-term effects of the shutdown on science are currently unknown. "Research is an iterative process, and quite often something happens that is an 'aha' moment," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association tells Scientific American. "We will never know how many of those 'aha' moments were missed."

And, Scientific American adds, a number of projects just weren't started due to the shutdown.

Further, the short-term nature of the deal reached between lawmakers has raised concerns that another showdown may be imminent. "We've got to assure the American people that we are not going to do this again," Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, according to the Times.

That uncertainty may also make researchers wary about diving back into their research programs. One concern, Benjamin tells Scientific American, is that if there is another standoff, researchers may again have to pause their projects, possibly losing data and driving up costs.

On a lighter note, the Times adds that the popular Panda Cam, streaming from the National Zoo, is to be live again this afternoon.