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Local college research not feeling bite of shutdown – yet

Local college research not feeling bite of shutdown – yet

Federally-funded research could stall
Local college research not feeling bite of shutdown – yet
Construction of the Science & Engineering building at Union College continues on July 26.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

CAPITAL REGION -- The federal government shutdown has yet to seriously harm ongoing research at Capital Region colleges and universities, but officials worry the longer the shutdown lasts the greater the impacts will be.

As the shutdown stretches into its third week, concerns continue to mount among college and university officials and academics that federally-funded research will stall. Already, new grant awards are indefinitely delayed in a handful of affected government agencies and the back-and-forth between researchers and their federal partners has ground to a halt.

For now, academic research at area schools has largely moved forward. But that could change if the shutdown continues and payments to colleges don’t get filled and new research or renewed projects fail to get launched.

“The majority of the University at Albany’s federally-funded research should continue in the immediate future but cannot be assured if the government shutdown is prolonged,” UAlbany spokesman Mike Nolan said in a prepared statement.

The statement said college officials expected “there will be little to no support” from federal workers in closed agencies who manage grants and research programs, answer questions from researchers and approve requests during the course of a grant’s life.

The statement suggested eventually the shutdown could force budget decisions at the region’s largest university.

“Long term, the shutdown could cause delays in new funding decisions,” according to the UAlbany statement.

Spokespeople at Union College and Skidmore also said there has not yet been an impact on ongoing research but that if the shutdown continues concerns about research funding will continue to grow.

“At this time, we’re not aware of the shutdown having an impact on the federal grants Skidmore receives,” Skidmore spokeswoman Lisa Haney said in a statement. “Like other institutions and organizations across the country that might be affected, we are concerned and continue to monitor the situation.”

Union and Skidmore colleges both received between $2 million and $3 million in government grant funding during the 2016-2017 school year, according to financial audits, though not all government grants have been affected by the shutdown. The federal Department of Education, which funds a massive portfolio of student loans, has been funded for the remainder of the fiscal year. The National Institutes of Health, a major source of research funding, has also been funded for the year.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, has far and away the largest reserach budget of the area's private colleges. During the 2016-2017 school year, the college received nearly $45 million in federal grant funding, according to a college financial statement. 

The government agencies that are closed under the shutdown, including NASA, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Endowment for the Humanities, have warned researchers that operations will be indefinitely curtailed until a funding resolution is reached.

At the National Science Foundation, for example, new funding proposals can be submitted but will not be reviewed. The peer-review panels set up to review grant research have been canceled. And while researchers working under existing grants can continue that work, the federal agency cannot authorize expenses not already approved or reimburse expenses already accrued.

“Unfortunately, considerable uncertainty exists surrounding a lapse in appropriations,” according to a memo posted to the NSF website. “[Grant] proposers and awardees are strongly encouraged to monitor news outlets to determine if the federal government, and therefore NSF, is open for business.”

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