As the partial government shutdown continues into a fourth week, its impact is reverberating across a growing list of organizations reliant on the agencies whose work has been affected — including universities, whose research is often funded by federal grants. 

Several key research-funding agencies are included in the shutdown, delaying the review of new applications and reimbursements on grants and contracts that have already been awarded. 

Virginia Tech isn’t immune to the challenges produced by an interruption in federal funding — but university officials say the university is in a strong position to weather the disruption, and the vast majority of research has continued largely unaffected. 

“We’re fortunate at Virginia Tech that we have the capacity to keep active programs going while we wait for reimbursement on our awarded grants and contracts from the agencies that are impacted,” said Theresa Mayer, the university’s vice president for research and innovation. “While it would obviously be optimal for the research enterprise for all sectors of the federal government to be open, we’re able support our researchers to keep us moving forward.”

Mayer emphasized that the diversity of funding agencies in Virginia Tech’s external research portfolio bolsters the university’s capacity to absorb a lag in reimbursements from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agencies affected by the shutdown account for less than a third of the university’s externally funded research portfolio.

“Our research is supported by funding streams spread across federal, state, industry, and foundation sources, which makes us more resilient to a disruption in any one of those categories,” Mayer said. 

Even within the federally funded segment of the university’s portfolio, she added, the agencies providing the largest share of the funding are among those still operational, insulating Virginia Tech further.  

The university acknowledged that the temporary closure of major research funding agencies and facilities isn’t without impacts on campus. Faculty may have to plan more carefully to accommodate delayed payments from the shuttered agencies. And while online application portals are continuing to accept proposals, those applications are being shunted into a repository. Even after the government reopens, a backlog of proposals will exist. 

The shutdown may also be delaying research that relies on access to facilities and collaborations at agencies whose doors are currently closed. 

One resource for researchers concerned about how their funding may be affected by the shutdown is the Office of Sponsored Programs, the division of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation that manages the university’s research portfolio and provides support services for faculty and staff seeking external funding.  

Trudy Riley is the associate vice president for research and innovation responsible for sponsored programs. Riley said that her team is monitoring the shutdown closely and is available to talk with faculty about how to navigate any interruptions in funding.  

“We’re watching carefully as the situation evolves, and we’re committed to providing new information as it becomes available, contacting those faculty members whose projects may be directly impacted, and working with them on solutions,” Riley said. 

Written by Eleanor Nelsen

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