Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA’s Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases group in Boulder, was planning to bring work home to help occupy him during the shutdown, because he would be unable to access agency computers or his work e-mail. “I’ll be busy, but you bet I’m angry,” he said, hours before the government began winding down its operations. Tans said that he and his colleagues are treating the shutdown with a sense of resignation after several years of uncertain budgets. “In ten years, our programme will be totally gutted if this continues.”
Some agencies are more fortunate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Silver Spring, Maryland, receives substantial user fees from the pharmaceutical industry that fund an estimated two-thirds of its drug-review process. Although the FDA has put 45% of its staff on leave and will cut back on food-safety programmes, user fees might keep its drug-review pipeline open — albeit operating more slowly than normal, says Timothy Coté, founder of Coté Orphan Consulting in Silver Spring and a former director of the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development.
But a lingering shutdown would have knock-on effects. For instance, if the NSF misses one or two weekly payments to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, the facility would be forced to close, disrupting long-term research, says facility director Tony Beasley.
At NASA, one casualty could be the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which until 1 October was being prepared at Cape Canaveral in Florida for an 18 November launch. MAVEN’s principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado Boulder, says that his team can accommodate a brief work stoppage. But if MAVEN, which will study the Martian atmosphere, misses its three-week launch window, it will be delayed until 2016, when Mars and Earth will again be favourably positioned in their orbits. Under NASA’s contingency plans, operational missions, such as work on board the International Space Station, will continue.
Meanwhile, the shutdown forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, to halt its tracking of influenza cases just when the US flu season normally begins. The agency will also cut back on surveillance of emerging infectious diseases such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, says spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds. The Environmental Protection Agency has retained some staff to look after its environmental-health and security functions and to care for animals being used in studies.