Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Reason Why Scientists Aren't Republicans

Steve Benen reminded me yesterday.

The United States government still does not have a budget, three months into the fiscal year. The Republicans are considering holding their breath, turning blue, and shutting the government down altogether.

Many scientists work for the government. Other scientists can look on in horror or schadenfreude, according to their temperaments.

Practically any job, and that includes scientific research, requires a modicum of continuity. The federal budget is supposed to be approved before the beginning of the fiscal year. After Congress approves the budget, there are other decisions to be made and paperwork to be done down the line in the departments before the money flows to the scientists. So budget approval somewhere in the early summer would be ideal. IIRC, the budget bills came up in Congress about that time, and the Republicans obstructed. So, in order to keep the government running, a continuing resolution was passed in September.

A continuing resolution says "keep spending money pretty much the way you did last year." But projects may be expanding or contracting, and the scientist managing a project has to make some guesses about how the budget will go. Simply because there is a logic that a project will expand or contract does not mean that Congress will fund it that way. If a project is expanding, every month under a continuing resolution means less progress toward the expanded goals. If a project is contracting, every month under a continuing resolution means an even lower budget for the rest of the year. You can even calculate (as scientists are wont to do) situations in which, when the budget comes in, it's all spent already and everyone on the project has to be laid off until the next year.

I am sure that discussions like this are going on in all government-funded laboratories now.

The continuing resolution fun started under the triumphalist Newt Gingrich-led Republicans in the 1990s, climaxed by a full government shutdown. Now the Republicans are promising to do it again.

The Republicans aren't solely responsible for continuing resolutions. But they are the ones playing politics with the budget. Scientists are smart enough to see that.

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