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Preparing for a potential government shutdown

u.s. capitol building, with a blue sky and light white clouds
(Getty Images)

OHSU leaders are closely tracking current federal budget deliberations in Washington, D.C. Should Congress fail to agree on a budget by midnight tonight, Jan. 19, 2018, the federal government will see a shutdown of uncertain length, which will affect research and other activities.

During previous shutdowns, most research activities were classified as ‘essential’ and were sustained, but the current situation is opaque and fluid, and the impacts are difficult to predict.

During the most recent shutdown, in 2013, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies provided guidance about how to navigate the cessation of federal activity. No such guidance has been forthcoming this time. I want to emphasize that this is an extremely fluid situation; however, we believe the following will apply:

  • The vast majority of NIH’s extramural staff will be furloughed and unable to provide administrative and programmatic support services to extramural grantees. This will likely apply to other federal agencies as well.
  • Principal Investigators can continue spending on grants as awarded during the FY 2017 grant year budget or awarded to date in FY 2018.
  • In the past, clinical trials have been considered ‘essential,’ as have student financial aid, VA operations, Medicare, and Medicaid. We do not know if these categories will be affected this time.
  • Principal Investigators should not make any spending changes that would require NIH approval because agency staff will not be available to approve changes or otherwise provide administrative support. If budgets are changed without approval, there is no guarantee that such expenditures will be reimbursed.
  • Federal contracts may be disrupted, and while grant budgets are somewhat protected, contract budgets are more vulnerable. Stop work orders should be followed because any work carried out during a shutdown may not be reimbursed. Fully executed subcontracts for FY2018 should not be affected.
  • No pre-spending will be allowed on grants that were favorably reviewed but for which a notice of award has not been received.
  •  itself may continue to operate under a government shutdown, but the NIH Office of Extramural Research discourages submissions and no applications will be processed.

Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., is the interim senior vice president for research at OHSU.

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