Government shutdown and the thin veil of normalcy


This is going to be a quick or poorly edited post because it is extremely late, as I just uploaded the final bits of an NSF proposal that is due today.

Wait, did that make any sense to you? Our federal government is shut down. NSF is shut down. Nearly all NSF employees are furloughed, and are not allowed to work even if they wanted to, in the span of their newly copious free time.

But I still submitted my proposal?! The online submission portal is running swimmingly! These exclamation points are not joy, but are the surprise of consternation!

The scientific apparatuses of our country — and so many other critical government functions — are being held hostage for an absurd request by a president who is relishing the disintegration of his own government. This is really hard to watch, and to be a part of. What makes it ever harder to watch is that the feds are working hard to paint a veneer over the shutdown to make it appear as invisible and as painless as possible. Even though 800,000 federal employees are going without a paycheck.

They’re forcing employees who aren’t being paid to report to work – to do things like process tax refunds, and keep national parks open, keep airports running. Agencies like the EPA and NASA and NSF are going without funds as staff are working without pay or are on furlough.  But you can still load their websites! They’re trying to make this shutdown get in your way as little as possible.

I think it’s fundamentally absurd that I’m being required to honor a grant deadline for an agency that hasn’t had staff available for weeks to field questions about this proposal. Or maybe I’m not going to be required to honor the deadline? Maybe it’ll be extended after the government reopens for business? I don’t know, because I can’t ask! Meanwhile, several thousand students have applied for fellowships to go to grad school in the sciences through NSF, but the review of their proposals is being held up by the shutdown — and perhaps the review can’t happen in time to impact their grad school enrollment decisions this spring. That would amount to something of a disaster. And yet a very small one compared to the hardship that so many people are experiencing.

I just couldn’t write a normal blog post about normal science and teaching stuff in the context of this government shutdown. I don’t want to pretend along with the Executive Branch and Mitch McConnell that this isn’t a disaster and an absurd reason to shut down the government. Acting like things are normal is just what they want us to do. Yes, I’ll make a point to science hard and move along with my life under this regime, but I’m going to be pausing once in a while to say this is not normal and take action. At this moment, we need Republican senators to somehow choose to give a damn about the harm that is being done to their constituents, and their phones should be ringing off the hook, just like they were in the first few days of this administration. Maybe you could make a call right now if you’re in one of those red states. Just sayin’.

Indeed, today is my first day back teaching, and I’m looking forward to a teaching a small graduate course in Biological Literature. I’m sure I’ll have fun things to share as the semester progresses.

(Oh by the way, yes, the other half of my household may well end up on furlough in the coming weeks or months, which of course is not a good thing, but not a source for panic, as I’m employed by a more functional government, this can save us from the kind of precarious situation that many others have been put into right now.)

4 thoughts on “Government shutdown and the thin veil of normalcy

  1. All the NASA postdocs received notice that their funding had been suspended as of last Friday. JPL is still in operation, but they are taking a hard look at all projects and tasks as we brace for furloughs.
    I may be asking CSUDH for a job!

  2. The outside contractor responsible for parts of NASA’s grant programs is working and has been changing deadlines to TBD as they approach – but not solving the “I have to submit to a shutdown agency” problem completely, as the postponed deadlines aren’t being announced in time for some internal deadlines…. so some proposers are still scrambling to get their budgets finalized and text written (some working around furloughed Co-I’s) to submit to their home institution for a deadline that may actually end up weeks away. Add this to the uncertainty about grant funds being dispersed and students not able to apply for/deal with financial aid – the shutdown is quietly damaging our science infrastructure … hoping for the least amount of permanent damage at this point.

  3. What is going on in our government is too overwhelming to fathom all of the negative consequences and just depressing. Just out of curiousity: Are your teaching a course on biology in literature? If so what books are you reading? Asking because I just finished reading The Feather Thief and thought it was terrific.

    • Oh that would be a fun course to teach! No, this “Biological Literature” course is a course in scientific writing for Master’s students in my department. Which will be fun, too. But yeah I definitely could enjoy a biology in literature course!

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