Houston Voices

Here's how a government shutdown affects university research, according to UH experts

Public universities can be negatively affected during a government shutdown — especially within its research department. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

As the partial government shutdown loomed, academic institutions explored ways this might affect their research operations. Although we expect delays in processing proposals and award payouts, the impact on the institution may have been much less than expected. Consequently, most of the impact occurred at the individual principal investigator, or PI, level. That is where research that required federal resources came to a halt.

This is also the case for researchers at the Borders, Trade, and Immigration (BTI) Institute at the University of Houston. As a result of the shutdown, they were unable to start any new projects. Sadly, the government furloughed their program manager at the Department of Defense- Science and Technology Office of University Programs.

Education initiatives and multiple other research projects pending review were stuck along the "assembly line," as approvals did not happen during the month of January.

Consequently, BTI is a granted institution. Current projects were able to continue with slight delay due to the requirement to have meetings with the DHS representatives for their projects.

This scenario echoed across the research enterprise, as other researchers found themselves in similar situations.

Business as somewhat usual

Moreover, Nicholas Bond, climatologist and associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, felt the pinch of the shutdown and chronicled his experiences of how it impacted his research on climate and oceanography of the North Pacific.

Academic institutions across the country became burdened with the task of assuming unexpected financial responsibilities. In mid-January, the lapse in governmental funding forced The Ohio State University to temporarily cover the costs of unbilled expenditures to the tune of about $3 million. Harvard University continued to pay stipends for fellowships. They did this despite the fact that the shutdown included the federal funding agency.

Many faculty members, including our own, were able to continue working on their projects with the expectation of administrative delays. No new funding opportunities were issued, panel reviews were postponed and no new grants or no-cost extensions were awarded. For the most part, it was business as (somewhat) usual.

The big picture

It may be safe to say that the partial shutdown acted more as an inconvenience to the research enterprise than anything. Which is great news! Especially for the University of Houston, who has recently ignited the campus with the announcement of the 50-in-5 initiative. This ambitious program will increase the research and scholarly output by 50 percent over the next five years.

While this article focuses on the inconvenience of administrative delays, it's critical not to skim the surface. It may seem minute when compared to recipients of public assistance fearing not receiving benefits, but short-term implications are likely.

Keep in mind that most often, grants are not awarded by a single payment from the agency. Timelines are established between agencies and the institutions, and funds are released accordingly. Because of this, it's likely that research programs and educational initiatives across the academic research enterprise will not receive their funds on schedule.

What the future holds

Imagine, if you will, a conveyor belt. A system designed to allow items to move through a process with maximum efficiency. Because of the partial shutdown, research proposals that were in queue for review or funding experienced interruption along the conveyor belt.

Once disruptions to processes within federal agencies happen, it becomes inevitable that there will be delays further down the line.

Claudia Neuhauser, associate vice chancellor/vice president for Research and Technology Transfer for the UH System, warns of the "ripple effect" of the downstream delays and the potential impact on expenditures. We'll have to wait until the end of the year when annual reports are prepared for answers.

For now, it's a question of what the aftereffect will be.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Nitiya Spearman is the internal communications coordinator for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Amy Chronis, who oversees the Houston office for Deloitte, has a new role she will be adding on to her plate. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Amy Chronis has had a big year. First, she took over as the Greater Houston Partnership's 2021 chair. And on February 25 she was named a vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and leader of its oil, gas, and chemicals sector.

In her new role, Chronis will lead the overall strategic direction of Deloitte's oil and gas arm while she continues to serve as managing partner of the company's Houston office. She succeeds Duane Dickson, who will be retiring from the leadership role in May.

Chronis is a licensed CPA and known to be a thought leader in aspects of the energy transition with a 30-year background in the oil and gas, technology, and manufacturing industries.

"Our industry is at a crossroads and going through one of the most challenging business environments on record," Chronis said in a statement. "It's an honor to take on this role at such a pivotal time for our oil, gas and chemicals clients engaging in the energy transition and emerging from the pandemic. I look forward to helping them navigate the winding road ahead."

Chronis spoke with InnovationMap earlier this year about Houston's evolving image and impressive innovation in the health, space, and energy industries that often gets overlooked.

"Houston needs to step up and state our case as often as possible," she told InnovationMap last month.

Chronis is also an advocate for inclusion in the workplace. She co-leads the Houston cohort of Deloitte's Board Ready Women and Women on Boards programs and will aim to advance Deloitte's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in her new role.

Click here to read a run down of Chronis's address to the GHP earlier this year.

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