Government Shutdown Affects Sciences
Source: Rice News, Volume 5, Number 20, January 18, 1996 By Philip Montgomery
Rice News Staff
The budget battles in Washington, which may continue
until the November elections, have created an air of
uncertainty about the future of funding for science and
engineering, according to Rice officials.
Both Michael Carroll, dean of the School of
Engineering, and James Kinsey, dean of the School of
Natural Science, agree that the budget process in
Washington D.C. must be watched closely.
In a letter to area representatives, Carroll said he
was concerned about the "serious threat that proposed
Congressional actions pose to the engineering enterprise
in our nation."
Carroll's concerns are shared by Kinsey.
"Given that there will be reductions in funding for
basic science under even the most favorable scenario, it
is clear that a smaller number of proposals will succeed,"
Kinsey said. "This is exacerbated by the shutdowns. People
don't know how to plan for the future. The `normal'
situation, when researchers had to undertake multiyear
projects with usually only the next year's funding secure,
was bad enough. Now everything is much more up in the
The government shutdowns, which are an outcome of the
budget battles between the Republican Congress and the
Democratic president, have not had a major impact on Rice,
Carroll and Kinsey said.
The Office of Sponsored Research has reported that the
shutdown has caused delays in continuation funding for
several current research grants at Rice. Notifications of
continuation of funding are expected to be processed once
government staffers are back on the job. Sponsored
Research expects longer delays for new awards.
However, both deans are quick to point out that how
you define "major impact" depends upon your perspective.
If you are a Rice researcher waiting for a grant check or,
as in Kinsey's case, have a pending proposal for research
scheduled to start soon, the effect of the shutdown is up
close and personal. In the case of graduate students, the
loss of funding can force talented young researchers out
"Clearly, research across the board will suffer more
and more as the government limps along," said John Dennis,
Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied
Mathematics. "However, grad students and post-docs derive
their small incomes from grants. They cannot wait long
before they leave research to find a paycheck.
"In today's world, once they leave, they are highly
unlikely to do any more research," he said. "A break in
productivity generally dooms someone applying for a
research position. Many senior researchers, like me, are
already worried about the health of U.S. research because
of the disheartening job market for young researchers-this
(government shutdowns and budget woes) just makes it
"The situation is beyond frustrating," said Neal Lane,
director of the National Science Foundation, about the
government shutdowns. "It is now endangering the nation's
science research and education base, and many of the
advances the nation has come to take for granted will be
in peril if this budget impasse isn't resolved."
Resolving the budget impasse may not be the end of the
peril to science and engineering, given the budget-cutting
mood of Congress.
More and more of the research that allows the United
States to stay ahead in the world involves groups of
researchers and depends upon expensive high-performance
computers, Dennis said. This type of research relies upon
a continuity of funding.
Looming budget cuts bode ill for university research.
The disruption of funds for research may amount to small
potatoes compared to Medicare or Social Security funding
issues, but the effect upon faculty and students could be
"For the first time, I am hearing some of our best
faculty saying extremely pessimistic things about their
future in research," Kinsey said. "The people I worry
about the most in .
all this are the young faculty just
starting up their independent research careers and the
Research in science and engineering lacks an adequate
lobby and may prove an easy target for the budget-cutting
Congress, Carroll said in his letter to local
representatives. The result could be deep and damaging
cuts to research, but he went on to point out why funding
science and engineering research is so important.
"We all tend to take for granted the technological
miracles that surround us," Carroll said. "The countless
ways in which advances in communication, transportation,
medical diagnosis and treatment, etc., have improved the
quality of our lives. Miracles of human ingenuity and