What happens to science and technology when we shut it all down?
If absolutely nothing goes as planned, the U.S. government will shut down tonight at midnight. Among other things, the forced absence of government will affect science and technology. Here’s how:
NASA: Everything But The ISS. NASA would be hit very hard by the shutdown, harder than almost any other agency. Very little of what NASA does is considered essential services; pretty much the only thing that’d still be going are services that keep our astronauts on the International Space Station alive. Space.com estimates that fewer than 600 of NASA’s roughly 18,000 employees would continue working during a shutdown. Work would cease on projects not yet launched, like new satellites, which could have adverse effects on those projects even when the lights are switched back on.
Environmental Protection Agency: Effectively Shut Down. A story in the Hill last week took a look at what would happen to the Environmental Protection Agency during a shutdown, and it’s not good. The chief of the Agency stated that the “vast majority” of the EPA’s 17,000 employees would be barred from coming in to work. And lest you scoff at the EPA, remember that of those employees, that includes the thousands who are engaged in cleaning up toxic superfund sites that leach toxic chemicals into our groundwater and air, monitor power plants that destroy the ozone layer and dump waste where it’s not supposed to be dumped, and even provide emergency assistance, in some cases. Bad news.
Museums and Zoos: Nope. The Smithsonian museums, some of the country’s finest, will close their doors. Most of the staff will be sent home, with the small exception of security staff and those deemed to have “essential” jobs (which probably will not be many.) The National Zoo, too, will shut down, though security will stay, as will a few people in charge of making sure the animals are fed and medically cared for. Oh, but the baby panda cam will go dark. Yeah, we know. That’s the worst casualty yet.
National Science Foundation: Pretty Much Screwed. The NSF is the organization in charge of doling out government dollars to valuable scientific research that could cure fatal diseases, improve quality of life, or create new amazing things. Lest you forget, the MRI machine, voice control, multitouch displays, the internet, GPS, and many, many more advances were funded all or in part by the NSF. This isn’t frivolous. This is important work that will grind to a halt. The NSF will stop making payments to researchers, and government-funded programs the researchers need, like websites and document downloads, will not be operational.
Center for Disease Control: Not Quite As Good At Controlling Disease. You’d think the CDC, in charge of monitoring, researching, and halting the spread of disease, would be an obvious choice for classification as a mostly essential service, thus exempting it from the shutdown, but nope. Executive assistants and secretaries are classified as non-essential–seems obvious, except then who will book the travel to get doctors and scientists out to where the diseases are? Complex programs that track the spread of diseases won’t have enough staff to continue monitoring them–just the thing we want at the start of flu season.
National Parks: Nope. All closed. And we’re not just talking about Yellowstone and Yosemite: the National Parks program includes Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, Alcatraz in San Francisco, and many, many more. Almost all rangers responsible for maintaining the national parks would be told to go home–and the parks, remember, are home to lots of endangered species that require our protection.