Do you have new shutdown-related information that's relevant to NSF- or NIH-funded investigators or those seeking funding from the major agencies? Send us an email.
On Friday, 27 September, we described the likely impact on scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) if the government entered a period of partial shutdown. That indeed came to pass the following Monday, at midnight. Here's what we've learned since then:
- More on accessing information from NSF's Web site--this via Twitter from Brian O'Meara, who, as we mentioned on Wednesday, had archived some critical files on his Web site. O'Meara tweets,
— Brian O'Meara (@omearabrian) October 5, 2013
You may need to be patient because it's slow, but that should get you to most of what you need from NSF. (I've been using the Wayback Machine forever, so I'm surprised I didn't think of that earlier. Thanks Brian!)
- From The Boston Globe via ScienceInsider comes the news that ClinicalTrials.gov has been granted an exemption that will allow the database to be updated by a skeleton staff. Earlier this week a man with advanced cancer was denied an experimental treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute because the trial had not been entered into the database. Representative William Keating (D-MA) made an appeal to NIH Director Francis Collins, and the Department of Health and Human Services allowed certain furloughed staff to return to work and maintain the Web site. The patient learned that the treatment would be allowed to proceed, according to The Globe. A note on the site says that "[i]nformation will be updated to the extent possible, with priority given to processing registrations of new trials and critical updates to existing entries, such as trial status and contact information for enrollment. The agency will attempt to respond to urgent operational inquiries."
- NSF's Web site went dark sometime yesterday, except for a page containing its closure notice and a short document providing "guidance" for NSF's "proposer and awardee communities." For some researchers—and, especially, research administrators—the disappearance of NSF's Web site is a source of considerable frustration. Research administrators need that information to do their jobs, and researchers need it to write new grant proposals. People have come to rely on Web sites to retrieve important information.
So, for example, pre-award staff does not have access to the information on NSF's Web site and therefore cannot advise the faculties they serve about NSF funding opportunities. Scientists writing proposals cannot find the information and the documents they may need. And those who want to get a head start on uploading proposals for the next due date (10 October) cannot do so because they can't access division codes and program codes, which Grants.gov requires.
Fortunately, there are workarounds. Start at the Web site of Brian O'Meara, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. O'Meara has located and stashed away some NSF forms likely to be in frequent demand: NSF's Grant Proposal Guide; the program solicitation for Directorate for Biological Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (Due date: 10 October); and the program solicitation for the crosscutting Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which has due dates in early November.
Can't find what you need on O'Meara's Web site? Try Google. Google probably has a cached copy of the page—but to find it you'll need to know exactly what you're looking for. First, do a Google search for the page of interest using the most specific search terms you can think of and then locate the page in the search results. Now, instead of clicking directly on the title as you normally would, you must click on the little downward-pointing arrow beside the URL on the line below. Click on "cached" in the drop-down menu.
The page that loads will be badly formatted, and graphical elements will likely be missing. To get to the good stuff, scroll down past lots of header and left-navigation elements. With a little luck and skill, you may be able to find the information you need.
- Do you want some good news? As of 10:47 p.m. EDT, the U.S. Army's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program was still accepting applications.
- Officially, PubMed is an "excepted activity"—but as of 10:26 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, it comes with a warning: "Due to the lapse in government funding, PubMed is being maintained with minimal staffing. Information will be updated to the extent possible, and the agency will attempt to respond to urgent operational inquiries."
- As of 9:30 p.m. EDT, NSF's Fastlane system is no longer available.
- Previously we advised that scientists preparing to submit research grant proposals to NIH in order to meet early October deadlines could, if they chose to, go ahead and upload them to Grants.gov. But this morning, NIH issued a notice cautioning prospective applicants against submitting proposals during the shutdown. The notice doesn't directly explain why, saying only that:
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.
What is NIH afraid will happen if applicants submit in the meantime? It's unclear, but a notice currently posted to the agency's homepage warning that "the information on this web site may not be up to date" and "the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted" suggests officials are concerned applicants might rely on out-of-date or incorrect information.
- As noted on Friday, NIH-funded researchers can continue their research for as long as their money holds out.
- NIH's Center for Scientific Review (CSR) will cancel study section meetings on a rolling basis. In-person meetings will be canceled 2 days in advance, and electronic meetings will be canceled 1 day in advance. "CSR has canceled face-to-face review meetings scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday," NIH says in a statement. "These meetings will be rescheduled to meet electronically—phone, online, or video—when possible. Two-day meetings that began today may run late into the evening." At those meetings, more proposals may be triaged. "Reviewers may be asked to discuss only about 40 percent of them vs. about 50 percent as usual so they can finish their work today," NIH says.
- NIH Web sites will not be available during the shutdown, so scientific review officers (SROs) are encouraging reviewers to download any materials they need from NIH's Web site today, for proposals being discussed at upcoming meetings. "This email is just to let you know that if a shutdown does occur, reviewers will not have access to government websites (including IAR [Internet Assisted Review])", writes the SRO of a study section that is scheduled to meet next week, "and I will be unable to work or otherwise communicate with reviewers while a shutdown is in progress. So I would suggest that you make sure to download all materials you may need from the IAR website sometime today if possible (application images, orientation materials/scoring guidance, zApps file from the Meeting Materials folder, etc.)."
- A document sent by NSF to its "proposer and awardee communities" starts by noting that, "NSF will not be available to respond to emails or phone calls during the shutdown, but will respond to your inquiries as soon as practicable after normal operations have been resumed."
- For those already funded by NSF: NSF will make no payments for the duration of the shutdown. If a report on your research is due, you won't be able to submit it because Research.gov will be closed. No one will be available to process no-cost extensions, so "federal funds cannot be obligated for expenses that occur beyond the expiration date."
- Those hoping to apply for NSF funding will have to wait. While it still may be possible to submit a proposal to Grants.gov, Fastlane will be closed, so your application won't make it all the way to NSF.
- For reviewers: All review panels scheduled during the shutdown will be canceled, and Fastlane will not be available for submission of ad hoc reviews