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The partial shutdown of the federal government began on Dec. 22, 2018, and is now the longest shutdown in U.S. history. While the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and several other research agencies have been mostly unaffected by the shutdown (due to spending bills Congress passed on time in October), many other entities, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Smithsonian museums, the Department of Agriculture, NASA,  the U.S. Geological Survey, and several other research agencies remain closed.

Until the federal government reopens, all activity at affected agencies has halted, including any pending grant funding, peer review committees, research activity, travel, and even simply answering emails or phone calls, leaving many academic researchers in a holding pattern. While some institutions have allowed researchers to continue their work in anticipation of eventual delayed reimbursements from the federal government, many schools are becoming cautious of continuing this practice with no end to the shutdown in sight.

In addition, the exchange of ideas between federal and academic researchers that so often takes place at academic conferences throughout the year has been impacted, as individuals at closed agencies are prohibited from traveling during the shutdown.

Further, while many institutions are eagerly awaiting more detailed guidance from the IRS on multiple provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that impact higher education, many people responsible for drafting such guidance are furloughed during the shutdown. Additionally, multiple institutional tax departments beginning to prepare for the upcoming tax season have reported receiving “assistance unavailable at this time” messages when reaching out to IRS on basic form and fee-related questions.  While the IRS has said it will recall thousands of federal workers to ensure the tax filing season can begin on time at the end of the month, this is unlikely to include those individuals responsible for drafting in-depth regulatory compliance guidance.

The shutdown stems primarily from a disagreement between Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the best approach to border security. Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, insist that any further appropriations bills must include funding for the $5.7 billion budget request from the administration to build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. Democratic lawmakers generally contend that a wall is not the best approach to border security and that its creation would result in negative humanitarian and ecological impacts. Multiple attempts at reconciling the two sides have thus far failed to result in any sort of agreement.

Take Action

In order to best advocate for higher education during this time, NACUBO asks that institutions share any impacts the shutdown is having on your individual campus, and any steps your institution is taking to alleviate the burden on impacted students, families, and faculty. Comments may be sent to


Megan Schneider

Senior Director, Government Affairs


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