From Washington, government shutdown reaches MSU

The recent government shutdown certainly made headlines and its effects were felt close to home. While some programs were directly affected, impact levels were mixed — leaving some untouched and others locked out of their research.

The shutdown has manifest in problems occurring at number of offices, including the Army and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC). As a non-essential program, ROTC had a portion of its budget cut. In addition, the biweekly stipends paid out to cadets in the program were halted, educational tours of military bases and facilities were postponed, and the senior cadets did not receive job assignments. It is unknown whether or not the cadets will be reimbursed for their lost stipends.

The shutdown sent ripples through the federal grant pipeline, impacting research at universities nationwide. While there has certainly been a direct impact, according to Assistant Vice President for Research Leslie Schmidt, “it’s hasn’t been catastrophic.” At least one project — a study in Yellowstone National Park — was entirely locked out due to the park closure, “But that’s a really small slice of the pie,” said Schmidt.

While no labs have been locked out of their research, cash flow to labs has been an issue. According to Director of University Communications Tracy Ellig, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of MSU’s largest funders and its website was inaccessible during the shutdown, delaying research reimbursements. Acquiring new funding through granting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was also halted due to deactivated websites, said Schmidt. Researchers were also unable to check the status of pending grant applications.

Though the federal government reopened, Schmidt thinks that it will take a while before the system is back in full working order. “It’ll be six weeks to two months before things get reinstated and before new awards are issued to Montana State University,” said Schmidt. She clarified that no funding actually disappears. Rather, it is just something that is eating up time. “I would say this is a delay as much as anything,” she said.

[pullquote align=”right”]The National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of MSU’s largest funders and its website was inaccessible during the shutdown, delaying research reimbursements. — Tracy Ellig[/pullquote]

In the university’s administration, MSU has been buffered from the shutdown. “From the central administration perspective, there is little or no impact,” wrote Vice President for Administration and Finance Terry Leist. Since all of the operating budget of the university comes from the state, it has been unaltered. Similarly, as all of the staff and faculty work directly for the university itself and not the federal government, there have been no impacts in human resources.

The Office of Financial Aid remained unaffected by the federal shutdown due to the methods that the office takes to fulfill monetary grants and scholarships. In conjunction with standard practice, all monies are first ensured to be accounted for before being awarded. This guarantees that all awarded monies are covered and that there is no future reliance upon other entities.

Veteran’s Affairs was untouched by the shutdown. All student veterans received their housing stipends for the month on time. However, the threat of a continuing government shutdown left many students worrying about November payments. The Office of Financial Aid was prepared to offer vets short-term, no-interest loans if the shutdown continued longer. With the government restart last week, no veterans were forced to accept this extra assistance.

Though it’s not been easy, the university has responded to the shutdown to help mitigate the issues generated. While the shutdown ended after 16 days, many effects will continue to linger, requiring university staff to work through it. “We’re continuing on as best we can,” said Schmidt.