Shutdown impact muted—for now

Students have seen small effects of the government shutdown in the near term, but will possibly see much larger effects as time goes on.

By Marina Fang

The federal government shutdown, which began at midnight on Tuesday, appears to have had little impact on the University so far, but could create trouble for students and faculty if it persists.

“The federal government shutdown at this point has not had any impact on UChicago students or research here,” University spokesman Jeremy Manier wrote in an e-mail.

There have been a few small impacts of the shutdown this week. The CIA canceled an information session originally slated for yesterday evening, according to an e-mail from Career Advancement. It will be rescheduled for later this quarter. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of State and the Peace Corps did not attend Career Advancement’s Fall Career and Internship Fair in Ida Noyes Hall yesterday afternoon.

In addition, students and faculty are unable to access resources such as the Census Bureau, USDA, and CDC Web sites. In most government agencies, staff members who manage online resources are considered “non-essential” or “non-excepted” government employees, so these resources will be unavailable until the government reopens.

Here are some other areas that could be impacted by the shutdown in the long term:

Research funding

At the moment, any federally-funded research projects that have already received funding can still proceed. However, researchers cannot apply for new grants, and the government cannot review any pending grant applications.

Students and faculty have expressed concern if the shutdown continues for multiple weeks, especially if their funding runs out before the government reaches a solution to the shutdown.

Robert Rosner teaches the Stellar Astronomy/Astrophysics physical science sequence and is co-director of the University’s Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC), where he does work primarily on nuclear power. Much of his research relies on federally funded employees and programs.

“What is affected is, for example, people who have grant submissions—those are not going to be heard.”

Regarding his work for EPIC, “all the technical force that I deal with, all the technicians, are funded by the government, and they’ve been furloughed,” he said.

Financial aid

The Department of Education contingency plan states that federal grants and loans, such as Pell Grants and Direct Student Loans, “could continue as normal” because funding has already been allocated from last year’s federal budget and is considered part of the Department’s “mandatory and carryover appropriations.”

About 90 percent of the Department’s employees have been furloughed, but if the shutdown lasts for a week or more, employees who deal with awarding and processing further grants and loans will “be brought into work as ‘excepted employees.’”

Department staff related to federal work-study programs are not considered excepted, according to the contingency plan.

Argonne and Fermilab

The University manages two national research laboratories affiliated with the Department of Energy: Argonne and Fermilab. When contacted, spokespersons for both labs redirected the Maroon to a Department of Energy spokesman, who referred inquiries about the labs to the Department’s contingency plan. The plan explains that both labs are still operating and “federal employees [are] to continue to report for work as scheduled” because the Department can operate using remaining funds from the current fiscal year. However, “a prolonged lapse in appropriations may require subsequent employee furloughs.” In that case, all but two employees at both Argonne and Fermilab would be furloughed, according to the contingency plan.

Additional reporting by Harunobu Coryne