At the stroke of midnight on Oct. 1, the federal government officially shut down. Despite a flurry of last-minute negotiations between the House of Representatives and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans failed to come to any sort of agreement over the budget, and some 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed as a result. Federal agencies will grind to a halt; while essential services and facilities will stay open, others (including National Parks and federal monuments) will either wholly or partially close.
The federal government is a major funder of research involving data analytics; the longer this particular stalemate drags on, the more data-centric initiatives could end up potentially affected in negative ways. Here’s a rundown of how the shutdown could harm not only federal data analysts (who won’t get paid) but also data-analytics research as a whole:
Department of Labor: According to The New York Times (which provides several handy charts detailing how the government’s current action will affect the various federal agencies), the shutdown will force its labor statisticians to stay home.
Department of Commerce: Same deal here: the Department of Commerce employs a large number of economists, all of whom will be forced to stay home instead of coming into the office to crunch data.
Department of Energy: Renewable-energy researchers, who use Big Data tools to find more efficient ways to power the country’s infrastructure, will end up twiddling their thumbs at home.
NIH: Until the shutdown ends, NIH will need to suspend medical research and furlough the majority of its staff—including scientists pursuing lifesaving cures to conditions such as Alzheimer’s. That medical research involves crunching massive datasets, with the results often being used to refine analytical processes. So the shutdown—if it drags on long enough—could end up affecting not only NIH’s researchers and data scientists, but also slow down improvements in medical research and data-mining techniques.
NASA: The space agency, which is a huge consumer of analytics tools, will be forced to furlough virtually its whole staff (those who support the International Space Station, however, will remain on duty). The shutdown could also delay a $650 million orbiter mission until 2016, further harming science in general.
According to reports, however, the shutdown won’t affect analysts at the National Security Agency, which utilizes massive datacenters and sophisticated data-crunching tools to spy on the world’s electronic communications. “A shutdown is unlikely to affect core operations,” an unnamed government official told The Hill. The Defense Department will likewise continue with its core surveillance programs, which are deemed essential for national security.
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