Category: Politics (page 1 of 3)

Worrisome Trends in Anti-Science Push Targeting School Children in the US

This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US.  Reports Zahra:

Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…

Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.

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Attrition through Intimidation, the New Immigration Policy Faced by Immigrant Professionals

This is not a space where I usually indulge in writing about politics per se, except whatever happens to impinge upon science policy, research funding and so forth. Scientists have long been accused of inhabiting a rarefied ivory tower, detached from any engagement with the general populace, but the portents are that the current political climate in the United States makes it imperative for science professionals to hang up their lab-coats and get more involved with the grand American political process in order to bring their educated, informed and expert perspectives to evidence-based, logically-consistent policy-making. Indeed, within the past couple of weeks, I can recall at least two instances of scientists feeling impelled to attempt joining the fray for this nation’s governance— NASA scientist Tracy Van Houten,  and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen —a most encouraging sign.

For me, however, the view of politics is a lot more fundamental than merely engaging in policy making. Political engagement is not ordinarily something I would have time to consider during my regular working hours as a research scientist. But as an immigrant to this land and person-of-color, I do believe that in certain situations, as the one we have reached in this nation, the whole existence of mine and people like me became inevitably political, a state in which remaining neutral for the sake of some esoteric neutrality is not possible without being a hypocrite. I simply no longer have the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware of the rapidly-changing circumstances around me, whose impact on the lives and livelihoods of my family, my friends and me is potentially grave. The most recent example of this blipped onto my radar a couple of hours ago, in form of a report in the Gothamist on the extreme immigration enforcement guidelines released today by the Department of Homeland Security, yes, the same department that is the supreme arbiter of my life and status as an immigrant/Permanent Resident in the United States.

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Ethical Qualifications for Forgiveness in Judaic Law: Thoughts from a Rabbi, with Mine

On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (referred to in Israel as “Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah” or “Yom HaShoah” in short) —today, January 27— Yerachmiel Gorelik, a Rabbi and Philosopher of Traditional Judaism at the Colorado State University, has written a most thought-provoking essay on the complexities of the human action of forgiveness, usually considered to be an indicator of compassion and strong moral values, with a twist

Friday, Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an annual day that honors the memories of the victims of the Nazi era. Seven decades after Hitler perpetrated his terrible genocide on the Jewish people, the world is faced with a disturbing question: Can the Nazis be forgiven?

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Urgent Help Requested By Belgian Scientists

My readers may remember a previous post detailing a crisis in animal-based research in Italy. Early this morning I received a note from the Basel Declaration Society alerting me to an urgent situation developing in Belgium. Scientific research with non-human primates appears to be in serious jeopardy in that nation, but it is hardly likely that the fallout from any anti-science policy prohibiting research will remain restricted to Belgium alone. Bioscientists from Belgium are asking for immediate help and support from the world science community; Prof Rufin Vogels, current President of the Belgian Society for Neuroscience, and his colleagues have formulated a petition to the Ministers of the EU and the members of the Belgian parliament. The Basel Declaration Society (to which I am a signatory) is supporting this petition; I am including the text of the petition. Please read it and consider signing.

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ASM Legislative Alert: Urge your Congress-member to end sequestration

US citizens amongst readers and well-wishers of this blog, here is an important legislative alert via the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), of which I am a member. I have shared previous legislative alerts with you – to inform you and enable your participation in this nation’s democratic processes, so that your voice reaches your elected representatives. This time is no different, and this is as crucial as before. I received it via email this morning (the emphasis on the links by bold-face is mine); please read and act.

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Temporary Reprieve: Can Kicked Down The Road

Back to work (Source Credit: www.freephotosbank.com/10083.html)
Image Credit: Free Photos Bank

So… It was done. Since late last night, the shutdown has been over, the government offices re-opened this morning, and Federal workers are back at work. The worked-out deal in its final form provides for appropriations at the current (post-sequester) spending levels for all Federal agencies through January 15, 2014 (which includes back pay to Federal workers who had been put on furlough), and extends the Treasury’s borrowing authority through February 7. The leaders of the legislative bodies have agreed to work towards a financial framework leading to subsequent tax and entitlement reform legislation. Meanwhile, economists have come up with a figure of US $24 billion as a cost of the 16-day shutdown kabuki theater, made up entirely of lost government productivity and revenue, and even then, the nation’s Legislative has simply kicked the can down the road, to the beginning of next year. We may very well find ourselves again in a similar mess come January or February, if broader reforms are not undertaken and if sequestration isn’t altered or repealed.

However, as before, it is not my intention to discuss politics in this space. My attention was drawn by a worrisome (although, not entirely unknown) situation highlighted by Darren Samuelsohn writing for Politico. In a report this morning, he pointed out how the fallout on science from this prolonged shutdown could last for years, and how it’s timing could not have come at a worst time. Some of the serious effects on the functioning of the NIH were voiced earlier by Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate and Director of the National Cancer Institute, who warned that the enforced delay on the review of grant applications and renewals is going to be devastating even if the NIH resumed its normal functioning at the end of the shutdown. Wrote Samuelsohn:

October is also a key month in the federal grant application process for thousands of academic researchers, but that paperwork is piling up at NIH and the National Science Foundation with no clear picture on when it will be sorted out[…]

[…] several scientists said they are concerned that the same problems will emerge by the next budget deadline in mid-January. Another funding lapse could mean flushing away years of work in the natural sciences, in particular any real-time research dealing with astronomy or the environment.

Thinking more of the big picture, there’s also the little matter of keeping the best and brightest researchers working in, and for, the United States or seeing them flee to the private sector. It’s a realistic expectation after nearly three years of stop-and-go budget battles resulting in sequestration and now the cruel reality of laboratories ordered to keep the lights out.

As Samuelsohn further pointed out in his report, clinical researchers in Boston University or the Johns Hopkins University working on long-term projects have been seriously impacted because the shutdown forced them to stop their patient interactions, causing irreplacable gaps in their research continuity.

Another less-visible but long-term fallout on the US scientific community is the significant impact on the immigration system, given the considerable number of foreign, non-citizen graduate students and post-doctoral researchers (2011 data from NSF: respectively, 28% and 52%) who work and actively contribute to the sciences in the US. As of today, the Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification is not operating, and thus Labor Condition Applications are required for new and continuing H-1B applications are not being processed; for the same reason, Permanent Residency applications requiring PERM processing are stalled. Applications for NAFTA treaty status are not being processed at Canadian ports of entry, and most importantly, no applications for new Social Security Numbers or replacement cards are being accepted. On Thursday (October 17), the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, NAFSA, reported that “at 10:15 am EST the Department of Labor’s iCERT website and PERM website were still delivering the message that they were unavailable because of the shutdown, and the DOL Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s website had not been updated to reflect the reopening” – which remained true for these and many other Federal organizations at 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

When the clock struck twelve, Cinderella’s stage-coach turned back to a pumpkin. For the government offices, one cannot reasonably expect them to switch to a functioning mode so instantaneously. The shutdown is bound to have left a deep and ugly mark in many areas affecting the US science and research community, and the pain will be felt for some time to come. We can only hope for a slow return to normalcy, and hopefully – oh, how I hope! – the legislators would not be boneheaded enough to force another shutdown in three months’ time. Honestly, I don’t know if this nation’s much-vaunted science and research status can withstand another hit like this.

Third Week Into US Government Shutdown: Wide-Ranging Local And Global Impact on Scientific Research

As the US government shutdown and the consequent budgetary stalemate rolls into its third week, I contemplate that I am, indeed, one of the fortunate ones – in that my work, in a private educational institution, does not depend directly upon the US Federal government, and therefore, has not been hampered to a significant extent, yet, although some collaborative work with an NIH division has been put on limbo. Many of my friends, some of whom work at the NIH, have not been so fortunate – just what I was so apprehensive about. Many of them have been put on furlough, which accounts for a whopping 73% of NIH employees. Some who were made provisionally ‘essential’, so that they could have time to wrap up their already-started work, have been under intense scrutiny, and are being rendered ‘non-essential’ (therefore, furloughed) as time passes. (Update: Read Sara Reardon‘s report in Nature News on how research work at the NIH is on the path of a slow decay, and how researchers are suffering in unexpected ways.)

In today’s The Conversation UK, an NSF (National Science Foundation)-funded neurobiology postdoc, Dr. Alexis Webb, has written on how the shutdown has forced her into a situation where she continues her research in the UK without being paid. Already severely jeopardized by the across-the-board budget cuts of the sequestration, US scientific research has now been critically imperiled further – as voiced by at least three American Nobel laureates recently – by this shutdown that continues on due to petulant political recalcitrance. 

Understandably, the shutdown effect has not been restricted to the biological sciences only. In a statement, Marinda Li Wu, the President of the American Chemical Society, has said that “the budget impasse is effectively choking America’s science innovation pipeline, strangling new discoveries, future economic growth and job creation.” The Huffington Post has an updated list of at least 10 ways in which the shutdown is negatively impacting science and scientific research in the US. Of these, one of the most painful is the uncertain future of the US Antarctic science research work, which was already hobbled by sequestration-mandated cuts to NSF funding, and now stands in the danger of being canceled altogether. As Lara Poppick of LiveScience pointed out recently, this means that “More than 10 years of planning, $10 million of government funding and tireless work from the team that discovered life in a lake buried beneath an Antarctic glacier earlier this year may largely go to waste due to the government shutdown” – which would doubtlessly be an enormously tragic and unconscionable loss for science and scientific research. Similarly, ecological studies, which often depend upon highly labor-intensive continuous observation of changes occurring in nature, have been amongst the hardest hit, and the loss may be irrevocable. As pointed out in a recent Science magazine report, casualties of the shutdown includes some of the Long Term Ecological Research projects funded by the NSF – amongst them, a “23-year study based at Palmer Station in Antarctica that tracks how fluctuations in annual sea ice affect the polar biota, including the continent’s penguins…” and a project “…examining how climate variability affects this confluence of urban and arid biomes“, based at the now-shuttered Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge south of Albuquerque. Lack of funds have also forced a switch-off for three US radio telescopes, managed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and used by thousands of researchers to study astronomical phenomena, including stellar and galactic behaviors.

The continuing budget impasse along with the separate crisis looming in the horizon over the debt ceiling with no end in sight is already hurting US economic interests on a global scale, as an OpEd in CNBC recently pointed out. However, science and research-related activities have not been immune from this global impact. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the multi-disciplinary NIH research group which studies fundamental biomedical problems and maintains collaborative work on a global scale, has been equally affected. NCBI is responsible for, among other things, the maintenance of the GenBank DNA sequence database and PubMed, the Web-based gateway to over 23 million research journal citations. Since the shutdown commenced on October 1, PubMed – used by researchers worldwide – went into a reduced functioning mode with minimal staffing, warning of irregular updates. In addition to hampering critical CDC functions, the shutdown has forced into a reduced mode the main and the subsidiary websites of the CDC (including the site for the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC’s authoritative publication for public health information and recommendations) – all considered essential and critical resources for scientists, physicians, and public health officials worldwide.

shutdown messages PubMed CDC

My SciLogs blog-brother, Matt Shipman, has recently pointed out how peer-reviewed science journals are feeling the impact of the shutdown because of its crippling direct and indirect effects on reviewers, editors, as well as authors, not to mention science and health reporters – all of whom are critical contributors to science communication; in fact, for anyone who comes under the definition of a Federal employee (many scientists amongst them) and has been furloughed, it is apparently a Federal offence to use any Federal resource during a shutdown, including checking and responding to official emails or volunteering one’s time – even without pay – in any Federal activity (such as research in a Federal institution, or representing a Federal agency/institution at a meeting or conference).

All in all, this shutdown is proving to be a terrible situation, taking a heavy toll on US scientific research and undermining its position as a leader in global science and technology. And all this was brought into sharp perspective by an email from Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate and Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the NIH, which was reported yesterday by James Fallows in The Atlantic; in it, Dr. Varmus pointed out many different ways in which the shutdown has been detrimental to the extra- and intramural research programs at the NCI, and how the ripple effect from this prolonged hiatus would continue to hurt US science. Most chillingly, as he mentioned:

[…] further consequences are coming into view. While grant applications can be accepted and stored at grants.gov, the NIH Office of Extramural Research has discouraged submissions, and applications will not be processed further until normal business operations are restored through Congressional appropriations. […]

Furthermore, NCI’s Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) has postponed until undetermined dates several site visits to evaluate re-competing centers and large grant applications, and it has postponed more than a dozen meetings to review grant applications. Thus, the NCI’s grant review cycle could be significantly delayed, threatening a smooth restart of NCI’s support of extramural research, even if the NIH reopens relatively soon.

This situation could have serious effects on the review and funding of virtually all NCI programs, including NCI-designated Cancer Centers, program project and SPORE grants, training awards, and individual research project grants.

It is inconceivable to me that in one of the most advanced democratic nations in the modern world, this tremendous damage is being wrought upon the lives and livelihood of countless people in the US and elsewhere, as well as significant harm is being visited upon the nation’s present and future prospects and well-being, by a small group of politicians who have been advocating with impunity a government shutdown for years. And now as the people are becoming more and more conscious of the deleterious effects of the shutdown, and the popularity of these politicians and their party continues to tumble, their independently-funded, well-orchestrated spin machine has started to brazenly blame this debacle on the Federal government, while people continue to suffer. Like millions of people nationwide, I continue to hope that reason and sanity would soon return to these proceedings, so that this unhappy situation is remedied.

Italian Biomedical Scientists Petition EC Officials and Italian Politicians Protesting Extreme Restrictions on Animal Research

I have written earlier about the peril that Italian Biomedical research finds itself in, due to extreme, immoderate and unreasonable restrictions on animal experimentation that the Italian Parliament approved recently. Via a missive from the Basel Declaration society (Disclaimer: I am an individual signatory to and supporter of the Basel Declaration), I learnt this morning about a PETITION (in Italian, and in English) that several prominent Italian Biomedical Scientists have launched, directed at European Commission officials and copied to several relevant ministers in Italy.

I am including here the text of the English version of the petition. Please read, support and share it. The place to put your name, email, and optionally, location and degree, is to the right side of the petition text (see the petition page link above). The field-names are unfortunately written in Italian even in the English page, but they are not difficult to understand. Upon signing the petition, you’d receive an email with a validation link which you must remember to click in order for your signature to be registered.

Please stand with these scientists for the sake of not only saving Italian scientific research, but also maintaining the integrity and continuity of biological research as a whole throughout the world.

Dr. Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for the Environment
Directorate General for the Environment
European Commission
B-1049 Bruxelles
(janez.potocnik@ec.europa.eu)

Cc:

Dr. Susanna Louhimies
Policy Officer- Use of animals for scientific purposes
Directorate General for the Environment
Unit 3
European Commission
B- 1049 Bruxelles
(susanna.louhimies@ec.europa.eu)

Ccc:

Minister of Health of Italy
On. Beatrice Lorenzini
(segreteria.ministro@sanita.it)

Minister of EU Affairs of Italy
On. Enzo Moavero Milanesi
(seg.ministromoavero@governo.it)

Minister of the University and Scientific Research of Italy
On. Maria Chiara Carrozza
(segreteria.particolare.ministro@istruzione.it)


Subject: Implementation in Italy of EU Directive 63-2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific research in Italy. Art. 13, Law n. 96/2013.

Dear Dr. Potočnik:

We are writing to share our concerns on the criteria approved by the Italian Parliament concerning the implementation of the European Directive 2010/63 on the protection of laboratory animals in Italy.

As a scientific community we have approved and supported the decision to generate an harmonized approach shared by the whole Community.  The European discussion has lasted almost a decade and has led to a well-balanced compromise between the demands of animal welfare and the interests of research.

This well balanced compromise has been challenged by the Italian Parliament with
severe risks for the future of biomedical research in the country.

We ask you to help re-balance the discussion by warning the Italian Government that the Parliament has approved decisions is in violation of art. 2 of Directive EU 63-2010. If transformed into a legislative decree by the Government,  those decisions  will make the Italian law much more severe and restrictive than the EU Directive.

Specifically we ask you to convince the Italian Government to implement in Italy the EU Directive 63-2010 as the UE Parliament and Commission have licensed it. This will require the rejection of the Art. 13 of the national law of implementation of the EU Directives for 2013 (Legge di delegazione europea 2013, n. 96, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, Serie generale n. 194, 20/08/2013, into force since 04/09/2013).

The different paragraphs of art. 13 of the above mentioned law contains a severe limitation to the use of cats, dogs and non-human primates for basic research, limitations in the re-use of animals of any nature previously employed in procedures classified as of “moderate” severity, prohibition of research on non-anaesthetized animals, limitation in the use of genetically modified animals, a ban of animal experiments on xenotransplantation and drug addiction, a ban of animal breeding centers in the national territory.

We trust that the strict control and ethical review mechanisms proposed by the EU Directive are the most effective mechanisms to prevent unnecessary and unjustified pain and suffering for animals. The Italian scientific community is very supportive of this strict review process but opposes any total bans, as fully inappropriate to regulate the complexity of biomedical research, and liable to damage it severely without adding significant benefits to animal welfare.

In the interest of biomedical research in Italy, we ask you to follow our recommendations and help us obtain a new and well balanced Italian animal welfare legislation, in line with the European directive.

Yours sincerely,

Fabio BenfenatiProfessor of Physiology, University of Genova

Giovanni BerlucchiProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Verona 

Roberto CaminitiProfessor of Physiology, University of Rome SAPIENZA, Chair, Committee of Animals in Research (CARE), Federation of the European Neuroscience Societies (FENS)

Enrico CherubiniProfessor of Physiology, SISSA, Trieste, President of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (SINS)

Francesco ClementiProfessor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University of Milan, and National Council of Research, Milan

Gaetano Di ChiaraProfessor of Pharmacology, University of Cagliari

Silvio GarattiniDirector, Institute for Pharmacological Research Mario Negri, Milan

Jacopo MeldolesiProfessor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, past President of the Italian Federation of Life Sciences

Giacomo RizzolattiProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Parma

Carlo ReggianiProfessor of Physiology, University of Padua, President of the Italian Physiological Society

Piergiorgio StrataProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Turin

NIH statement for the NIH Extramural Grantee Community during shutdown

On the heels of my previous post on the severe impact of the shutdown on US biomedical research community and the general populace, comes this statement from the NIH. I present it here in its entirety.

Information for the NIH Extramural Grantee Community During the Lapse of Federal Government Funding

Notice Number: NOT-OD-13-126

Release Date: October 1, 2013

Issued by: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Purpose:

The Government Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ended on September 30, 2013 at midnight EST and an Appropriation Act for FY2014 has not been passed leading to a lapse in Federal funding. We are providing the following information to answer questions you may have on the impact this lapse in appropriation will have on your grant/cooperative agreement or the availability of NIH’s systems and services.

RESUMING OPERATIONS

You are encouraged to stay tuned to the national media to determine when the Federal Government will resume operations. Depending on the length of the funding lapse, once NIH non-excepted staff are authorized to resume operations it will take time for full operations to be resumed. Depending on the length of the funding lapse, the eRA system may require at least one business day after operations resume. We ask for patience when trying to contact NIH staff once operations resume since there will be a backlog of information to process.

CONTACT WITH NIH STAFF

E-mail, Phone, Fax, and Postal Mail Contacts: For the duration of the funding lapse, NIH extramural employees will be prohibited from working (remotely or in the office). Consequently, there will be no access to voice mail, e-mail, fax, or postal mail during this period. Mail requiring someone to sign/accept may not be received. All other postal mail, fax, and voice mail communications will not be acted upon until after operations resume. It is recommended that you delay sending such communications until after operations resume.

Help Desk Support: For the duration of the funding lapse, all help desks, central e-mail boxes, and web ticketing systems for questions related to NIH grants policy and electronic grants systems will not be available, including the eRA Helpdesk and Grants Information Services.

In the event of an emergency involving human safety, please contact Dr. Sally Rockey at rockeysa@od.nih.gov.

SUBMISSION OF GRANT APPLICATIONS

For the duration of the funding lapse, applicants are strongly encouraged not to submit paper or electronic grant applications to NIH during the period of the lapse. Adjustments to application submission dates that occur during the funding lapse will be announced once operations resume. For any applications submitted immediately prior to or during the funding lapse, here is what will happen.

  1. For electronic submissions through Grants.gov: Grants.gov will be open and can accept electronic applications. However, applications will not be processed by NIH until the eRA Systems are back on-line. NIH will ensure that all applications submitted within the two business days before or during the funding lapse will receive the full viewing window once the systems are back on-line.
  2. For electronic submission of multi-project applications through NIH’s ASSIST system: The ASISST system will not be available until NIH systems are back on-line.
  3. Paper Submissions: Staff will not be available to receive paper applications during a funding lapse.

The safest course is to wait to submit any application to NIH until after operations resume and a Notice in the NIH Guide concerning adjusted submission dates is posted.

PEER REVIEW AND COUNCIL MEETINGS

Initial Peer Review Meetings: For the duration of the funding lapse, the NIH will not be able to conduct initial peer review meetings – whether in-person or through teleconferences or other electronic media. Also during this time, the NIH staff will not be able to send or receive email messages, or update website information, and NIH computer systems that support review functions will not be operational. When operations resume, those meetings will be re-scheduled and the pending applications will be processed and reviewed as soon as possible.

Also, the results, including final impact scores and summary statements, of some peer review meetings that took place prior to the orderly shutdown of operations may not be available until operations resume. Therefore, applicants with applications going through the peer review process should stay tuned to the national news to determine when operations of the government resume, and then check the NIH website for information on any review meetings that may have been extended or re-scheduled. The results of meetings held prior to a potential funding lapse will be released as soon as possible after resumption of operations.

Individuals who had agreed to serve on NIH review panels (”study sections”) that were scheduled to meet during the funding lapse will not be able to access the Internet Assisted Review (IAR) site or other NIH web-based systems during that time. Reviewers who were scheduled to travel for a review meeting on a day when operations are down will not be able to board a plane or train, and will be sent instructions on how to handle their reservations. Reviewers who are attending an NIH review panel on the day of orderly shutdown will be able to change their travel plans and return home. Therefore, peer reviewers should stay tuned to the national news to determine when operations of the NIH will resume, and then check the NIH website for information on meetings that have been re-scheduled. As soon as possible after operations resume, the NIH Scientific Review Officer in charge of the review meeting will contact those reviewers with more detailed information.

Advisory Council Review: The NIH will not be able to conduct Advisory Council review meetings – whether in-person or through teleconferences or other electronic media – during the funding lapse. Also during this time, the NIH staff will not be able to send or receive email messages, or update website information, and NIH computer systems that support review functions will not be operational. Therefore, no applications will be processed for Council review or be taken to Council meetings during that time. When operations resume, those pending applications will be processed, and meetings will be re-scheduled as soon as possible.

Applicants with applications pending Council review during that time should check the NIH website for information after operations resume. Advisory Council members should stay tuned to the national news to determine when operations of the government will resume, and then check the NIH website for information on Council meetings that have been re-scheduled. As soon as possible after operations resume, the NIH Executive Secretary in charge of the Council meeting will contact those Council members with more detailed information.

AWARDED GRANTS

Currently Active Grant Awards: For the duration of the funding lapse, all work and activities performed under currently active NIH grant awards may continue. However, see below for limits on performing many of the reporting requirements associated with NIH grant funding.

Progress Reports:

  1. Electronically Submitted Progress Reports: For any progress reports due during the funding lapse, the eRA Commons will not be accessible. Users will need to wait until the eRA Commons is back on-line before these progress reports can be submitted.
  2. Paper Submitted Progress Reports: No NIH staff will be available to receive paper progress reports. Therefore, institutions are encouraged to delay mailing all paper progress reports due during the funding lapse until after operations resume.

Notice of Awards (NoAs): No NIH grant awards will be processed for the duration of the funding lapse. For any awards processed before the funding lapse that have an issue date during the funding lapse, the awards will not be sent to the grantee on the issue date. Once operations resume, all pending NoAs will be sent. This will not affect the start date nor the issue date of these awards; it just affects the date the award document is actually sent to the grantee and available for access in the eRA Commons. In the absence of actually receiving the NoA, institutions may use pre-award costs authority at their own risk.

No-cost Extension Notifications: The eRA Commons will not be accessible during the funding lapse. Further, no-cost extension notification cannot be submitted via the Commons once the expiration date of the grant has passed. For any grants due to expire during the funding lapse that plans to be given a no-cost extension, a paper notification to the IC will be required after operations resume.

General Access to eRA Commons and Other OER-Supported Systems: The eRA Commons will not be accessible during the funding lapse. Therefore, no user will be able to access the Commons for viewing electronically submitted applications, accessing Internet Assisted Review, or processing such actions as Commons Registration, FSRs/FFRs, xTrain documents, Closeout documents, and/or FCOI notifications etc. Further there will be no ability to access Commons for query or other purposes. There also will be no access to the Interagency Edison or Electronic Council Books systems.

Prior Approval Requests and Other Communications: NIH extramural employees will have no access to voice mail, e-mail, fax, or postal mail during the funding lapse. All prior approval requests and other communications will not be received until operations resume. It is recommended that you delay sending such communications until after operations resume.

Access to HHS Payment Management System (PMS): For the duration of the funding lapse, the HHS PMS will be open; however, no Federal staff will be available to assist or process any requests. Therefore, drawdowns (payments) on accounts can be processed as long as no Federal staff action is required to finalize the payment. For most NIH grantees, this means drawdowns should be possible. However, if a particular grant is on a reimbursement basis for withdrawing funds or otherwise restricted, then these requests cannot not be processed until after Federal Government operations resume.

ANIMAL WELFARE

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) business processes are funded by annual appropriations and are not designated as excepted activities under the Antideficiency Act. No activities associated with the OLAW mission will continue for the duration of the funding lapse.
For the duration of the funding lapse, PHS-funded institutions are encouraged to delay sending all Assurance documents, preliminary or final reports of noncompliance or IACUC suspensions as required under the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals IV.F.3, or other correspondence due to OLAW during the funding hiatus period until after operations resume. OLAW will extend deadlines for all reporting activities as necessary to compensate for the period of the lapse in funding and the unavailability of the website and OLAW operational support.

Institutions are reminded that their obligation under their Animal Welfare Assurance to ensure ongoing local support and oversight, and to address and correct all situations that affect animal welfare and compliance with the PHS Policy continues during this period.

Severe impact of the US government shutdown on biomedical research, health and welfare

I am not a citizen of the United States. I come from a country where political demonstrations against the government are commonplace, and work-strikes (called ‘bandh‘ in the vernacular, literally meaning ‘cessation’) organized by trade unions and/or political parties are an accepted means of protest. But it is completely inconceivable to me that in a democracy, the entire economy, the governance of the entire country is being held hostage by a small, vocal, well-funded minority, who did not like the outcome of the last popular mandate. To me, this action seems utterly irresponsible and undermining the whole democratic process. Anyway, I would not like to use this space to discuss politics as such, but I want to put on record what I have learnt of the impact this unseemly ‘government shutdown’ has on scientific research in the US.

Sorry, we are closed. (Free Photo via Stockvault)

Free photo: courtesy Stockvault/Allan Toft Pedersen

I have earlier talked about how biomedical research in the US, so long a strong force for addressing existing and emerging threats to national and global health, has already been deeply impacted by the sequestration process that has imposed indiscriminate, across-the-board budget cuts. The nation’s elected officials have evinced a strange inability to understand the depth and breadth of the crisis, and reach a reasonable budget agreement – putting aside ideological differences – in order to sustain crucial funding for biomedical research. However, partisan politicking continues to take precedence over the essential work of governing the country. And today, on the first day of the new Federal fiscal year, the US government is experiencing a shutdown. None of the regular Appropriations Bills, which provide funding for most of the government, have been enacted.

There are many visible signs of the shutdown this morning, such as the closure of the National Parks across the country and the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC, the much-discussed stoppage of the Panda Cam in the National Zoo; but barely visible or not are the more serious negative ramifications for people who have friends and families working for the Federal government. The Washington Post this morning posted a nine plus list of barely visible, but painful impacts of the shutdown, which include:

  • Paycheck delays or stoppages for >2 million federal workers.
  • Possible disruption of benefits to millions of veterans in case of the shutdown lasting more than 2 weeks.
  • Possible disruption of disability benefits to veterans and others, since Veterans Appeal Board would be closed and Social Security administration stuff would be on furlough.
  • Annual seasonal influenza program of the CDC, including monitoring, will be halted.
  • Cessation of some food-safety operations.
  • Possible cessation of nutritional programs for women, infants and children, after a week of shutdown.
  • Hindrances to the financing for small businesses.
  • The tourist trade is already taking a hit; read some of the experiences of the people affected in the Facebook page of the National Public Radio.
  • Cessation of Head Start programs for hundreds of kids.
  • Inability of businesses to access the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of potential hires.
  • Bureau of Land Management will stop issuing permits for oil and gas companies on public lands.

The only aspects of the Federal government that will continue to operate are those that are funded by permanent (mandatory) spending authority (this, fortunately for students, includes Direct Student Loans) or dedicated funding streams, as well as those deemed ‘essential activities’ (for the protection of life or property). Many federal employees arrived at work this morning only to find out they are “not essential” and, therefore, were sent home. The furloughed Federal employees would qualify for unemployment benefits, but those benefits would likely not reach Federally contracted private firms. The employees performing ‘essential activities’ are also expected to substantially lose on their paychecks.

This morning, via an institutional email, I was made aware of certain extremely worrisome details regarding this government shutdown. Here they are (italics for emphasis, mine):

Department of Health and Human Services (NIH, CDC, and others): 73% of NIH staff will be furloughed. Some of those who remain will continue providing inpatient and outpatient care for current patients of the NIH Clinical Center, though no new patients will be admitted unless deemed medically necessary by the director. NIH staff also will maintain their animal stock, security to safeguard NIH facilities, research infrastructure, and data. Most FDA monitoring programs and CDC outbreak programs, including seasonal influenza work, will cease operation. This morning, the website for the Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report, an important communication organ of the CDC, has this ominous notice put up: “Due to the lapse in government funding, only web sites supporting excepted functions will be updated unless otherwise funded. As a result, the information on this website may not be up to date, the transactions submitted via the website may not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted.

The Grants.gov portal will be up and running so applications can continue to be submitted, but no action will be taken until appropriations are enacted. Many staff at the agency will be furloughed, so they will not be available to provide routine administrative support services. The Payment Management System will continue processing grant drawdown requests. However, if a notice of grant award includes restrictive terms and conditions, or if a drawdown request triggers one of the Payment Management System edit checks and/or the drawdown limit controls, a drawdown will not be possible.

National Science Foundation: Virtually all staff are to be furloughed, with those remaining responsible for the protection of life and property. NSF will be sending notices to awardees informing them that payments won’t be made during the disruption, but that research that doesn’t require federal employee intervention may proceed.

Department of Energy: There are exceedingly few employments in most DOE R&D offices that will be exempt from the funding disruption. A handful of DOE staff will remain at the Office of Science and its national labs, and at the offices for efficiency, renewables, nuclear power and fossil energy; none would remain at ARPA-E. Unsurprisingly given the agency’s mission, a few hundred staff within the National Nuclear Security Administration are exempt.

NASA: International Space Stations support and operational satellite missions will continue, but pre-launch development activities will mostly halt. As with other agencies, no new contracts or grants will be issued, and apparently citizens will not have “access to the NASA website” (a message to that effect already appears at the NASA website).

USDA Research, Education, and Economics (website is also shut down): Just about all staff at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service will be furloughed, though the Agricultural Research Service will retain several hundred staff to safeguard research animal populations, IT infrastructure, and other assets.

Because of the “Pay Our Military Act” signed by President Obama late Monday night, active-duty military service members, plus civilians and contractors with the departments of Defense and Homeland Security who support active-duty troops and guardsmen, will continue to be paid. However, an eloquent opinion piece at the Talking Points Memo today points out how the shutdown indirectly hurts the members of the military anyway.

At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) many of the activities related to the Affordable Care Act will continue, including coordination between Medicaid and the marketplace, as well as insurance rate reviews and assessment of a portion of insurance premiums used on medical services. In addition, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption. Other non-discretionary activities including those of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan activities also will continue. States will have funding for Medicaid and for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). However, that CMS will not have funding for health care fraud and abuse strike force teams resulting in the cessation of their operations.

The current agency contingency plans are available from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

I can only hope that reason and sanity will return soon and these issues will be resolved. My heart goes out to those millions of families who will inevitably suffer severe financial hardships because of this situation.

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