Sunday , June 20 2021

The detachment shows how vital government scientists are



Instead of finding out As many Pacific hake fishermen can take sustainably, as their job requires, the scientist Ian Taylor is at home with his four-month-old daughter, waiting for the government's part-time closing.

Taylor's task is to evaluate the size and age of hake and other commercially harvested fish species from productive lands in Baja California to the Gulf of Alaska. These stock assessments are used by federal managers to approve licenses for West Coast fishing boats. Without Taylor's scientific report, the season could be postponed – and the impact of the shutdown could spread beyond the 800,000 government officials who are now on leave to include skippers, deck hands and others working in the fruit industry of the sea. to the sea on time. That's what happened to the Alaskan prawners during the last major federal stoppage in 2013.

Taylor, an operations research analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, says he is frustrated that he can not do his job. He can not even make phone calls or use e-mail. "It looks like a terrible situation," he says. "Important work is not being done."

President Trump said he would not sign a bill to operate large parts of the federal government unless Democrats agreed to approve more than $ 5.7 billion for a wall along the Mexican border. Trump said on Monday he planned to visit the border on Thursday, suggesting any compromise likely will not happen before that.

Some federal science agencies are open, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, since their appropriation invoices have already been signed by Trump. Others, like NASA, continue to operate major programs such as the International Space Station, although 95 percent of its 15,000 workers have been sent home on December 22.

The shutdown has led to a hodgepodge of federally funded science-based activities across the country. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, ready for a launch planned Jan. 17, but without NASA personnel to oversee the tests, the takeoff will be delayed. The crews that fly over the Atlantic to check the threatened free-range whales and send those positions to commercial ships are still working but are not being paid.

Meteorologists are working during the shutdown, but hundreds of scientists from NOAA and the National Weather Service were banned from attending the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society this week in Phoenix. Antonio Busalacchi should be on a panel with colleagues from federal weather agencies, but they did not show up. "Science is a community and this is where people come together to discuss common problems," says Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of academic institutions that conducts and promotes the study of earth science. "Last month, we were talking about the workforce in the future, but now we can not discuss how best to move forward."

Busalacchi fears that he has to close a meteorological research program. UCAR runs the so-called COSMIC, which uses a fleet of existing GPS satellites to measure the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. The data are then sent to federal NWS forecasters who use it to make short-term and long-term climate forecasts. UCAR runs the program with resources from the National Science Foundation, which is currently not awarding grants, as well as aid from NOAA and NASA.

"We may be running the risk of closing this program because we are not getting the government's resources," he says. If COSMIC is disabled, data analysis will be halted, potentially weakening some predictions. But equally frustrating is the fact that Busalacchi is left in the dark about how to handle the program. Without information coming from his federal partners, he does not know if he should continue to spend money to support the program, or turn off the device.

Scientific data groups are still being collected remotely by satellites operated by the federal government, automated river gauges, or non-federal scientists, but the policies and permissions that depend on that science are now in limbo. As a result, a legal expert is concerned that the shutdown could result in more air and water pollution being discharged by companies with licenses that expire during the shutdown.

"None of the federal environmental laws are written in such a way that if the government is closed, you can not do anything," says Kyla Bennett, a senior advocate for the nonprofit Public Officials for Environmental Responsibility, who defends on behalf of federal officials and former EPA employees. Instead, the law implies that companies can act on their own. "Say, if you do not hear anything, go ahead."

The Environmental Protection Agency left about 14,000 of its employees, leaving only 753 "essential" workers at work. This may make it more difficult for the agency to meet legal deadlines by the end of the year for safety assessments of about 40 chemicals, according to a report in the magazine. Nature. The agency has postponed at least one of the next meetings of the advisory committee related to the work.

Federal science workers are doing it. Leslie Rissler, an evolutionary biologist and program director at NSF, tweeted last week she had applied for the unemployment allowance. "This is a ridiculous stop, unnecessarily affecting thousands of federal officials and families. Wishing all of them, and this country, better days ahead."

For his part, fishing scientist Taylor is budgeting his savings and using his time wisely. "I've been watching Marie Kondo on Netflix," he says at his home near Seattle. "We clean our closets."


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