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Government Shutdown Negatively Impacts Students' Ability To Conduct Research

By Mariel A. Klein and Harrison K. Wexner, Contributing Writers

As the government shutdown enters its second week, students at the College and the graduate schools say that the closure of government-run websites has negatively impacted their ability to do research and classwork and expressed concern for family members affected by the furlough of federal workers.

Lawmakers in Congress failed to pass a budget agreement by October 1 after weeks of heated debate over the implementation of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, leading to the furlough of almost a million federal workers and the closure of national parks and museums across the country.

For students, the suspension of federally maintained websites has been the most visible effect of the current shutdown.

“The Library of Congress website has been down, and that has impacted my research for my thesis,” said Alexandra M. Slaight ’14, a history and literature concentrator. “It’s stalling my project.”

Students in Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 22: “Nutrition and Health: Myths, Paradigms, and Science” have been unable to complete a recent problem set requiring students to track their diets using the United States Department of Agriculture website.

“Unfortunately, ever since the shutdown, the USDA website for the nutrient tracker has also been down,” said head teaching fellow Audrey J. Gaskins. “I had no idea that [the shutdown] was going to affect me in this way.”

Graduate students have faced issues due to website disconnection over the course of their research.

“On Wednesday I was working on some research for my dissertation, and I went on the Census website and wasn’t expecting it but found that the website had been shut down,” government Ph.D. candidate Stephen Pettigrew said.

Other students have been forced to stop “non-essential” activities as a result of the shutdown.

“The panda cam at the D.C. Zoo is shut down, and watching the panda cam is a good study break,” Emily M. Bishai ’17 said, referring to cameras that live-stream the pandas at the National Zoo.

Many members of the Harvard community also expressed worry for relatives employed by the federal government, which furloughed 800,000 workers on Tuesday.

“My aunt is essential government personnel, so she’s at work right now and not getting paid, and my uncle is non-essential government personnel, so he is not going to work and not getting paid,” Henry A. Shull ’13-’14 said. “It’s difficult for their family.”

Some students expressed frustration with the lack of bipartisanship in Washington right now and expressed hope that politicians will reach an agreement soon.

“[The shutdown] speaks to the level of polarization in Congress right now,” Pettigrew said. “The differences between the parties are pretty broad and don’t leave much room in the middle for compromise.”

“We are hoping things will get resolved and the government will be back up and running,” said Gaskins, a former employee at the National Institutes of Health.

The current fiscal impasse began when Senate Democrats refused to pass a last-minute agreement drafted by House Republicans that would have extended the government budget while delaying funding for the Affordable Care Act for another year.

“What’s going on is a game of chicken,” Law School professor Robert H. Mnookin said. “Each side is saying ‘We have demands that must be met, or we’re going to go over the fiscal cliff.’”

The next looming fiscal deadline is October 17th, at which point the government must pass a budget or face automatic cuts of $742 billion to offset the current budget deficit.

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