Government shutdown threatens research grants

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As the federal government shutdown heads into a second week, UT researchers find themselves missing grant submission deadlines and worrying about their prospects for funding in the next fiscal year.

Substantial amounts of research are funded every year by grants from federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2011, federal agencies awarded more than $154 million to UT researchers.

Though most funding comes through direct grants, cooperative and pass-through grants involving federal and state partnerships also play a role in the research funding process and all are affected by the government shutdown.

Because the review of grant applications is classified by the federal government as a nonessential operation, grant review has come to a complete halt.

“Many employees at the NIH have been furloughed and the agency is currently not processing new grant applications,” said John DiGiovanni, a cancer researcher and pharmacy and nutritional sciences professor.

Though Grants.gov, the federally maintained grant submission website, is remaining active through the shutdown with reduced staff and funding, no grant proposals will be downloaded from the site or reviewed.

“The grant submission process is really in suspense right now,” said John G. Ekerdt, associate dean for research in the Cockrell School of Engineering. “At this time, there’s no one to process grants and the sites for grant submission are down.” 

Despite the shutdown, which has brought the grant review process to a halt, grant money that has already been doled out is safe. Ekerdt said money already allocated by previous grants is in the hands of researchers and can be used without complication.

“No ongoing projects have been canceled because [of] funding issues from the government shutdown,” University spokesman Robert Meckel said.

Travel preparations and university-provided funding will also remain unaffected through the shutdown. The UT International Office is still processing passport applications to keep study and work abroad on track, and there are a variety of research opportunities through the University open to both graduate and undergraduate students.

But the government shutdown is just one aspect of larger funding issues that have been plaguing researchers for years, DiGiovanni said. Federal funding has been dwindling since the federal sequestration earlier this year, which DiGiovanni said affects the ability of the University to hire. 

“We’ve all been affected by the sequestration that took place earlier this year — it’s been hard on many of us that rely on grant money for our research and it’s caused funding cuts on top of already serious cuts to federal funding,” DiGiovanni said. “These cuts have seriously impacted our ability to hire and retain personnel and to make research progress.”

Correction: In the Oct. 8 edition of this article in The Daily Texan a reporting error was made.  Federal funding given to UT researchers was incorrectly reported as $154 billion. The correct amount is $154 million. This correction was run in the Oct. 9 edition of The Daily Texan.