UC Riverside feels ripple effects of government shutdown

Courtesy of the White House

For the first time since 1996, the United States government was forced to shut down temporarily after Congress failed to agree on a spending bill by the Oct. 1 deadline. With a cost of $12.5 million per hour and with 800,000 federal employees being furloughed, the shutdown halted work production in many federal agencies across the nation and has even affected the campus of UC Riverside.

Some UCR students participating in the UCDC program, for instance, have felt the impact.  There are currently 20 UCR students  in Washington D.C., and of the 20,  two are currently not working in their internships as a direct impact of the shutdown.

Athena Motavvef, a fourth-year public policy major at UCR who was interning at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was furloughed as a result of the shutdown. She spoke with the Highlander about her experiences. “My immediate reaction to the news was disappointment,” she said. “(I) was pretty disappointed that I would not be able to come in. I’m losing networking opportunities, chances to learn on the job and time spent with my fellow interns from other schools around the country.”

Motavvef added that she was “working with ski athletes before the shutdown (and) escorting them around the EPA building for a meeting on the fight against climate change.” She went on to say that despite the halt in work production, she plans to continue her stay in the EPA.

Other students, such as Kassandra Taira, are currently interning in agencies that have received appropriations, which will soften the financial blow. According to Taira, “As of now, the State Department is drawing on multi-year funds to run operations domestically and abroad at our embassies — it is up to each bureau and office to decide when and if furloughs are necessary.”

Specific services at UC Riverside have also been impacted. According to UCR Director of Financial Aid Jose A. Aguilar, federal work-study funds will still be distributed to students, but the shutdown has affected training sessions and webinars about financial aid that were offered to students by the U.S. Department of Education. Additional funds such as grants and loans will not be affected. Those funds were allocated during the previous fiscal year, so student aid will be distributed as planned.

UCR Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services Ann Frenkel explained the shutdown as a “graying out” of government federal documents. “There’s no impact on those kinds of more physical and online use of the library (but) there is an impact and it’s the access to information,” said Frenkel. “If there’s a slowdown, there’ll be a ripple effect (and) we’ll feel it, especially those applying for (research) grants right now.”

Additionally, research at UCR will continue to run, but according to Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Charles E. Greer, the government will not review new grant applications as long as the shutdown continues.

“Nearly 60 percent of UCR’s research funding comes from the federal government,” according to UCR Director of Media Relations Kris Lovekin in a press release. In 2005-2006, faculty members received about $87 million in research funding, largely from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, whose websites have also been halted.

Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development Michael Pazzani explained that there has been no effect in terms of access to previously-approved multi-year grants. But if the shutdown is prolonged for more than a month, the campus may begin to feel a more lasting impact. He also noted that faculty members may become fiscally conservative during uncertain times.

Pazzani also said that the shutdown has affected an existing federal building on campus, which is located behind the chemical sciences building. The U.S. Department of Agriculture leases land from the university, which contains federal employees. Because of the shutdown, the facility is currently non-operational.

On a systemwide level, the UC is currently attempting to gauge the aftereffects of the shutdown, according to UC Public Relations Representative Charles Milton. “In total, the UC has received about $3.1 billion in federal research awards systemwide,” he said. “In the short term, we haven’t seen any large or significant impact on the research enterprise, mainly because each government agency has its own guidance on how it’s handling the government shutdown.”

Milton concluded that, generally, UC research will proceed until researchers require additional assistance on a federal level.

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