When the U.S. Government began its first shutdown in over fifteen years on October 1, after Congress failed to pass a continuing funding measure, federal agencies nationwide shuttered their doors.
Penn also felt the effects of the shutdown — now the third longest in history. The bulk of funding the University receives from the federal government is for academic research, which saw significant cuts earlier this year under an austerity measure known as “sequestration.” Here, the Daily Pennsylvanian takes a look at how the shutdown impacted students and faculty on campus.
Faculty members who conduct extensive and long-term research projects have in some cases experienced major holdups.
PennDesign professor of Urban Research and Education Eugenie Birch has completed research on a catalog of community sustainability indicators, but the federal agencies that commissioned the project — the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency — must sign off on the work before it can be published on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities website.
“We created a special interactive catalog of indicators as well as a set of instructions on their use,” Birch said in an email. “So the website cannot be created and the work disseminated until the government opens up again.”
Other projects will also have grant money delayed or reduced, or will be unable to submit proposals, until the shutdown officially ends. Federal agencies, many of which furloughed the vast majority of their workers, will take several days to fully re-open.
Graduate School of Education professor Jonathan Supovitz said that most of his projects are proceeding without interruption, though he cannot receive guidance on activities that are part of federal contracts for research. The longer the shutdown lasts, the longer the school has to wait to receive funding from research grant proposals, said Supovitz, who is also the co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, Penn’s partnership with six other universities to conduct education research.
Many students reported being unable to access government-run databases, such as some census and demographic data, for class research projects. Van Pelt Library’s twitter account posted that “The government #shutdown affects access to some electronic resources, including the Census,” alerting students to potential problems.
College senior Nikolai Zapertov was accepted to attend a conference, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, to present a research project he conducted at Penn. While he said he had hoped that he would receive a full grant for travel costs, since he met all of the grant’s requirements, he was disappointed when he received word that the agencies would only fund half of his request on October 4, four days into the shutdown.
“As a student at Penn that is on financial aid, that’s a burden on me,” Zapertov said of the travel money he would now have to pay out-of-pocket. “I’m trying to find other avenues to decrease any costs.”
In his and his friends’ experience, receiving a full grant had not been an issue before, he added. Though he would like to go into research professionally, he doesn’t see a bright future for the industry given the current level of government support.
“It’s an atmosphere that I can’t foresee with a future being stable,” he said. “It’s going to lead to a brain drain in terms of highly specialized and skilled individuals leaving the public research sector and going to more lucrative and safe opportunities.”
Though most furloughed workers reside elsewhere, the Philadelphia and Camden metropolitan areas are home to over 46,000 federal employees, many of whom were furloughed at the start of the month. Several dozen staged a protest on October 11 in Center City to lobby for reinstatement at their jobs.
The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has offered free admission to furloughed government employees throughout the shutdown, and 25 workers and their families have already taken the museum up on their offer.
Throughout the city, various retailers have offered free perks to government workers temporarily without a job. Among them, Philadelphia Sports Club offered free passes and Boston Market gave customers who were also federal employees a free chicken.
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