UTB grants may be at risk - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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UTB grants may be at risk

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Posted: Saturday, October 5, 2013 10:15 pm

As politicians remain in a stalemate in Washington, D.C., about how to fund the government, professors and researchers at the University of Texas at Brownsville are hopeful a compromise will occur before any lasting damage is done to federally funded projects on campus.

UTB, which has exponentially grown its research expenditures during the past 13 years, has about 120 grants that come from the federal government, said Pamela Paulson, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.

A notice posted online by the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health that grants funding for projects, informed the grant-funded community there would be no communication with NIH staff and that the submissions of grant applications would wait until the federal government shutdown ends.

“The fact that we cannot communicate with the federal grants officials has a huge impact on our operations,” Paulson said.

A group of researchers at the university were unable to submit grant applications that were due to the National Science Foundation, she said.

“We won’t be getting any notices of awards,” Paulson said.

And because government websites are down, she said there is no way of communicating with program officers.

Grants that were awarded for projects immediately prior to the shutdown were not able to be processed on time before the Oct. 1 deadline, Paulson said.

Some ongoing projects require progress reports that Paulson said UTB is unable to submit at the moment.

“We have left messages,” said Luis Colom, vice president for research at UTB. “There is no specific way we can reach any official because they are home.”

Colom said the university is continuing to prepare grant applications despite not knowing when they will be able to submit them.

Mario Diaz, director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, which will celebrate 10 years of research next week, said the center is fortunate because it does not have any business pending with governmental agencies.

A $6 million NASA grant was used to develop the CGWA in 2003, according to a university press release. Since then, a $5 million Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the center through 2017.

“If the shutdown lasts less than a month (like the previous one), we may not see a significant impact on many of our daily activities,” Diaz said in an email to The Brownsville Herald.

He said some of his students that use NASA databases for research haven’t been able to do their work.

“She couldn’t do it: This particular server is down. All NASA servers are down,” Diaz said. “So I can clearly tell you this right now: The federal government shutdown is very bad for science, it is very bad for education and consequently in my opinion very bad for the country.”

Colom estimates that the university receives an average of $15 million in federal grants each year.

Research isn’t the only aspect that is affected. One grant that helps her program recruit diverse students to the biomedical field is about to run out, Paulson said.

“It’s not only research grants but training grants for students,” Paulson said.

“The longer this shutdown continues, the more difficult it will be to recover,” she added.

If the federal government shutdown continues for a longer period of time, some research faculty may experience periods of non-funding, potentially putting personnel out of work, Paulson said.

In the meantime, whenever a question for a program officer arises, Colom said they first try to contact someone anyway, but when that doesn’t work a note is made for the future when the shutdown ends.

“We need to continue working,” Colom said. “We continue working and we are optimistic the problem will be solved.”

mmontoya@brownsvilleherald.com

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