The US federal government ceased most operations just after midnight on October 1st, 2013, as a divided Congress failed to reach a compromise for continued funding. NASA, the Department of Health and Human services, and other hi-tech agencies are largely frozen until further notice, except for critical services. With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives holding fast in their attempt to block funding for the President's health care reform effort, no clear end is in sight for the first full government shutdown in 17 years. Follow the effects here.
Oct 22, 2013
The government shutdown may be over, but its effects will be felt in next year's tax season. The IRS has announced that it will be delaying the date when it will start accepting tax returns by about two weeks. The 2014 season will start sometime between January 28th and February 4th, a week or two later than its original date of January 21st. The agency says this is because the shutdown — during which about 90 percent of the IRS was inoperational — put its QA operations three weeks behind. "Programming, testing and deployment of more than 50 IRS systems is needed to handle processing of nearly 150 million tax returns," reads the statement. "Updating these core systems is a complex, year-round process with the majority of the work beginning in the fall of each year."Read Article >
That doesn't mean Americans will be getting a later deadline. The April 15th cutoff is set in stone, so we'll basically just see a shorter filing season and delayed refunds, though it's possible to apply for a six-month extension. Budget deadlock also set the 2013 season back by eight days, as the IRS had to implement last-minute changes passed as part of Congress' agreement. Just like last year, the IRS is urging people not to send paper filings early, since they won't be processed any sooner, and electronic filings remain its method of choice. For now, we'll have to wait until December to find out when the season actually starts.
Oct 17, 2013
Overall, 162 out of 532 elected officials — all Republicans — voted against re-opening the government; that's 30.4 percent of Congress. Among the 18 Senate "no" votes were Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). At a press conference earlier this evening, President Obama stated that he would be signing the bill once it arrived at his desk; at that time, he said, "we'll begin re-opening our government immediately." The Washington Post later reported that Obama had signed the bill.Read Article >
While the bill will avert the threat of federal debt default for the moment, it is ultimately only a temporary measure. Under the deal, the government will be funded only through January 15th of next year, and the debt ceiling raised through February 7th. If the same kind of political tactics are used next year, the country could find itself embroiled in a very similar situation in just a matter of months. In the meantime, a bipartisan committee will be formed to address the underlying budget issues and is scheduled to submit its recommendations on December 13th.
Oct 16, 2013
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have agreed on a plan to reopen the federal government after two weeks of shutdown. The shutdown took effect on October 1st, after Congress failed to agree on a budget because of Republican opposition to Obama's Affordable Care Act. As part of the compromise, the US budget will be extended through January 14th, 2014, and the debt limit will be suspended until February 7th — once again punting an issue Congress has been debating for years. A committee will look at more expansive plans for a budget later this year, with a report due December 13th. The ACA itself remains undelayed and largely unchanged, except for tougher checks on the income of people receiving government health-care subsidies.Read Article >
The agreement comes one day before the Treasury Department warned that the US was in danger of defaulting on its loans. It still needs to be made official in both the Senate and the House — where hard-line Tea Party members have so far derailed negotiations. With McConnell and Reid in agreement, however, Congress looks to be falling into line. One of the ACA's major opponents, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), has also said he will not oppose this compromise, and McConnell says that Republicans will move to discussing other issues for the time being.
Oct 10, 2013
At the close of business today, more than 90 percent of the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will go home on furlough as a result of the government shutdown. The Commission had been operating on carryover funds since last Monday, when the shutdown began, but those funds run out today, reducing the staff to a skeleton crew of 300 "essential" personnel who will be responsible for monitoring the nation's 63 nuclear sites until the government reopens.Read Article >
The United States' Antarctic research expeditions are being put on ice as funding dries up during the government shutdown. The National Science Foundation announced today that it's beginning to suspend work at all three of its major Antarctic research stations. Only a small staff will remain at each station in order to perform upkeep, while all other work will be halted. The agency says that its funding will run out on or around October 14th, at which point it will begin fully implementing the suspension of research services.Read Article >
The lapse in funding comes at one of the worst times for Antarctic researchers. According to Nature, the stations' primary research season is between October and February, when the continent is warmest. The National Science Foundation acknowledges that a lot of work is on the line because of the shutdown. "Some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed," the agency writes. Nature notes that it could pose major issues for researchers who have been taking measurements annually, such as those monitoring animal populations.
Researchers looking for information in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute, or the National Archives have been out of luck since last week when the US government shut down amid a lapse in funding, but now Oxford University Press is hoping that it can offer them a valuable alternative. Through the end of next week, the press is offering free access to three of its online resources: Oxford Reference (which includes a collection of the press' core academic books), American National Biography Online (which includes biographical details on over 18,700 famous names from US history), and Social Explorer (which includes access to past and present census data).Read Article >
Access to all three sites can be gained by using public usernames and passwords that Oxford University Press has published on its Tumblr. Of course, the offer may not be purely altruistic: the access only runs for two weeks total, at which point it once again requires a subscription — and individual subscriptions to individual sites aren't cheap. Social Explorer runs $495 each year for a single person, though others are less expensive, like the American National Biography Online, which only costs $89 annually. Most researchers would use group subscriptions obtained through their universities, however, and there's a good chance that they already have one.
Oct 8, 2013Read Article >
A public health alert has been issued by the US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in relation to chicken produced at three Foster Farms facilities. Some 278 reported cases of Salmonella Heidelberg infections have been linked to poultry coming from those farms, affecting people in 18 states. The bulk of those are in California, which is the main distribution area for the chicken in question, along with the states of Oregon and Washington.
Oct 7, 2013Read Article >
Federal Judge Richard Kopf agrees with the Urban Dictionary definition of the word batshit: "a level of insanity that the word alone cannot justify," and believes that forcing further staff cuts would mean Congress has reached that level of insanity. He took to his blog to admonish Congress for the government shutdown, which has forced organizations to temporarily let go of "non-essential" employees. According to the judge, the sequester has already left the judiciary shorthanded, and every remaining employee of the branch should be considered an essential employee. Saying what many Americans are thinking, Judge Kopf urged readers to tell Congress to "go to hell," claiming, "it's the right thing to do."
Oct 7, 2013
The White House panel tasked with reviewing the state of US intelligence operations has been stalled by the government shutdown, Politico reports. According to internal sources, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper decided on Friday to furlough the panel's staff, freezing the five members' funds to travel to Washington. While they can continue to discuss the issues, the lack of funding and general state of government affairs means their work is effectively frozen for the near future.Read Article >
Even before the freeze, the shutdown had already put the panel on shaky grounds. Early last week, panel member and former CIA director Michael Morell declined to meet with Congressional intelligence committee members, saying that it was inappropriate to keep a review panel running while 70 percent of civilian intelligence community members are currently staying home from work. "While the work we're doing is important, it is no more important than — and quite frankly a lot less important — than a lot of the work being left undone by the government shutdown, both in the intelligence community and outside the intelligence community." Morell also said that Congress shouldn't be distracted by other issues while it should be ending the shutdown.
Oct 5, 2013
US President Barack Obama gave an extended sit-down interview to the Associated Press on Friday evening, in which he covered a broad range of topics of national and global concern, including Iran's nuclear ambitions, the historic shutdown of the US federal government — now in its fifth day, and the controversy over the Washington Redskins NFL team's team, a pejorative term for Native Americans.Read Article >
Noticeably absent from the conversation though, was any discussion of the growing controversy over the NSA's secretive mass online surveillance apparatus. The AP's reporter didn't ask, and President Obama didn't volunteer any opinions or information about the NSA's spying programs, despite a new series of leaked government documents published by the Guardian and the Washington Post on Friday, revealing that the NSA was able to successfully identify some users of the online anonymizing platform known as Tor.
Oct 4, 2013
This week's government shutdown has forced many departments to close, but one area that hasn't been widely considered is how it affects businesses looking to hire new employees. Many businesses rely on E-Verify, an electronic system for checking if potential workers have the legal right to work in the US. The system has been suspended after being deemed non-essential, meaning businesses need to rely on paper documents as proof. Officials say that, although many businesses are legally required to use E-Verify within three days of hiring someone, the requirement is being waived until the system is up and running again. Even so, Bloomberg Businessweek reports there is "plenty of confusion" over how to proceed, highlighting that it's currently difficult to find state officials to answer questions due to the shutdown.Read Article >
Any business confused by the new regulations need only head to the E-Verify website for full guidance. The site clearly states that the three-day rule is suspended, but businesses are still required to file I-9 forms within three days. When it comes to already open cases things get a little more complicated. Employees that have been marked with Tentative Nonconfirmations (essentially flagging them as possible illegals due to mismatched data) will be given additional time to prove their legality. Usually, employees have eight federal government workdays to contact the Department of Homeland Security or Social Security Administration and correct the issue, but any days that fall under the shutdown will not count towards that allowance. In addition, businesses are not allowed to "take any adverse action" against employees because of E-Verify statuses until the system is back online.
Oct 2, 2013
Bill Newsome, one of BRAIN's co-chairs and a Stanford University professor, told Popular Science that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was set to spend the first $40 million of the project's budget. That money is supposed to hire scientists to begin working on understanding normal brain functions, he said. "Those understandings of brain function are critical to understanding what goes wrong in neurological and psychiatric disorders," Newsome said. "Every month and year we delay in getting this going are going to have consequences." The setbacks will, of course, also delay the discoveries of potential therapies that could come out of the research initiative — which aims to map the brain as a means to develop new technologies that could help fight diseases such as Alzheimer's and epilepsy.Read Article >
Newsome said that he isn't even able to get email responses from NIH officials to talk about all the ways that the shutdown will impact BRAIN. "The whole thing is just at a complete standstill. I don’t know what to say," he said. "I just know that this is no way to run a government, and it's no way to run support for science… it's pretty much a disaster."
Oct 2, 2013
The shuttering of the federal government has resulted in NASA shutting down almost completely — but for the time being at least, the Mars Curiosity rover won't be affected. A spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates both Curiosity and the older Spirit rover, has clarified to International Business Times that JPL is a private contractor owned by the California Institute of Technology. As such, its personnel aren't among the 17,701 NASA employees that were furloughed today after the US Congress was unable to pass a funding bill. That means at the moment Curiosity will continue to operate as scheduled, even if its Twitter account has gone offline.Read Article >
Still, that doesn't mean the rover couldn't run into issues should the partisan brinksmanship continue. JPL's Jane Platt told the Times that "changes to JPL's status will be assessed on a week-by-week basis as events unfold." Should the shutdown stretch on Curiosity isn't the only Mars-related project that could suffer. As Space.com points out, the NASA furloughs have sidelined preparation for the launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution — or MAVEN — project. Designed to study the Martian atmosphere, MAVEN had been scheduled to launch on November 18th, but it's working with a relatively narrow window. If the craft doesn't launch by December 7th, team members say, it would have to wait a full 26 months before Earth and Mars would line up again.
Oct 1, 2013
The hundreds of thousands of US federal employees furloughed by Congress' failure to appropriate funds for the 2014 fiscal year are legally required to turn off their work phones. If they check their work email they can be fired and may face civil or criminal penalties.Read Article >
Government shutdown procedures vary by agency. Some, like the Committee on House Administration told non-essential personnel that it "strongly recommend that you turn your BlackBerrys off for the duration of the furlough," while others mandate employees to hand in their work-provided cellphones, reports Politico.
Oct 1, 2013
As the US federal government furloughs an overwhelming number of employees, the websites they manage are going dark as well. The FTC, USDA, NASA, Library of Congress, and other agency sites have been turned off completely, and others are being updated periodically or not at all. With all non-essential personnel off duty, there's almost certainly nobody home to man the sites, and redirecting to a splash page doesn't take much work. But the stark, mournful notices are effectively a protest as well, creating an online graveyard reminding us of what's no longer running.Read Article >
Oct 1, 2013
The US government shut down at midnight, after House Republicans refused to budge on their effort to link the passage of the 2014 federal budget to a delay in the implementation of health care reform. When they wake up this morning, 800,000 workers — about 40 percent of the government's civilian work force — will be temporarily out of a job, while 1 million federal employees will be asked to work without pay.Read Article >
Oct 1, 2013
Congress was unable to pass the funding bill before the deadline, and as of midnight tonight the US government has begun shutting down.Read Article >
The US government is headed for a shutdown as of this writing, after members of Congress were unable to reach a compromise on the federal budget. They have until midnight tonight to pass a new funding bill in time for the start of fiscal year 2014. If they can’t make it in time, about 800,000 civilian workers, about 40 percent of the entire US federal government’s civilian workforce, will be required not to work. Many of them will be furloughed without pay.