Government Shutdown Interrupts Science, Impairs Local Response to Natural Disasters

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16-day 2013 shutdown compromised USGS streamgage network maintenance, seasonal data collection, delayed analyses to help local communities respond to natural disasters.

Earth & space science community assessed impacts of October, 2013 U.S. government shutdown. Interruptions, delays, even cancellation of critical research projects were cited by federal science agencies.

“The atmosphere doesn’t stop; weather doesn’t stop. But a lot of important science in our community was stopped. Interrupting research due to uncertain funding results in critical lapses in our observations and data collection. This ultimately affects our ability to gain an adequate picture of the ever-changing atmosphere,” Dr. Tom Bogdan, President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UNAVCO) consortium stated.

“Federal Some critical National Weather Service (NWS) functions continued, but “all preventative maintenance and calibration on systems and radar” was stopped and a flash flooding event assessment postponed.

Oceanic and Atmospheric R&D to “improve predictions of high-impact weather events ceased… (while) research with models and observational data on decadal-scale drought, water availability, and air pollution in western U.S. states was put on hold.”

“Precious time was wasted dealing with the shutdown rather than doing scientific, engineering and management work that should have been the focus of attention,” Dr. Suzette Kimball, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) asserted.

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After the shutdown ended, USGS had to perform quality assurance and quality control on environmental monitoring data. It needed to assess any critical data gaps caused by sensor failure or inability to conduct seasonally-based fieldwork capturing time-sensitive data. Delayed availability of USGS analyses and data products also compromises the ability for local communities and the public to respond to natural disasters.

Increasing network degradation due to insufficient federal budget appropriations commonly occurs without the added strain of a shutdown. Interagency organizations like the Interstate Council on Water Policy frequently call to restore funding to the USGS streamgaging program.

“Living organisms don’t stop doing what they do because our political leaders can’t come to terms and fund the government on time,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Co-Executive Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. He surmises that some water and ecosystem sciences may have suffered most because environmental scientists weren’t in the field. (Additional reading on contribution of low-cost, spineless organisms to environmental health and water quality monitoring.)

The American Geophysical Union’s Eos publication documents more negative effects caused by the 1-16 October 2013 shutdown. During the government reopening, AGU Executive Director / CEO Christine McEntee urged “policy makers and government officials to recognize the fundamental knowledge science provides our nation, work to mitigate the damage created by the shutdown, and protect funding for Earth and space science research.”

2018-2019 note from the USGS.gov: Due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions. Websites displaying real-time data, such as Earthquake and Water information needed for public health and safety will be updated with limited support. Additionally, USGS will not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted. For more information, refer to www.doi.gov/shutdown and the USGS Contingency Plan, dated 9/2018.

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