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Sunday, October 13, 2013
NIH campus endures slow decay, Experiments suffer from lack of lab materials and staff during US government shutdown.
A skeleton staff at the US National Institutes of Health has struggled to keep experiments afloat.
Bleak grey skies mirror the mood of the skeleton staff trickling through the gates of the main US National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Most of the principal investigators are absent: without students to advise or meetings to attend, there is little point in being there. Perhaps one out of every ten windows is lit up, revealing lonely postdocs working on what few experiments they are allowed to maintain as the US government shutdown drags on.
On 1 October, after federal budget negotiations reached an impasse and forced the shutdown, the NIH sent 73% of its 18,646 employees home. During the second week of the shutdown, the US Department of Health and Human Services put nearly 1,000 more on unpaid furlough, or enforced leave. As Nature went to press, there were suggestions that the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives could come to a deal with the presidential administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which could reopen the government. But during a visit to the NIH on 9 October,Nature found remaining staff members grimly working to keep crucial research efforts afloat. Notably, 1,437 clinical studies are continuing and a few trials have been able to enrol a handful of desperately ill patients. Technicians at animal facilities have stayed on, ensuring that the NIH’s 1.4 million rodents and 3,900 non-human primates receive care. And several hundred employees are allowed to maintain irreplaceable cell lines.