Penn State leadership assessing shutdown impact, developing contingency plans

As the partial federal government shutdown continues, Penn State leadership is assessing the short- and long-term effects that the closure is having on students, faculty, staff and University operations, and developing contingency plans to minimize the impact of a more prolonged closure. 

With many federal agencies closed and approximately 800,000 federal employees furloughed, several difficulties surfaced early in the shutdown. Federal employees are unavailable to accept new grant applications, process expenses or reimbursements, and perform other important tasks that have a bearing on Penn State’s operations. However, the University is altering plans and workflows to navigate around these inconveniences, according to Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones. 

“We understand how disconcerting this situation can be for those in our community who are reliant on federal agencies for not only funding, but for furthering their research and their work,” Jones said. “For now, Penn State is in a stable position and able to manage the shutdown, but like everyone who is being affected, we know this cannot continue indefinitely without impacts on our University and society.” 

Penn State derives approximately $400 million of its $927 million research enterprise as federal research funding from agencies that are part of the shutdown, including the National Science Foundation, NASA and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Homeland Security, among others. These grants support a wide range of critical research, helping to create knowledge, further scientific advances and support quality of life across a range of issues, from food and energy security to economic development. Many of these grants also provide support to graduate students and postdoctoral trainees at Penn State, and often help cover the salaries of fixed-term faculty and research support staff. The grants are frequently funded in stages that involve renewed proposals when phases are complete, and -- when the government does reopen -- it may take some time for these processes to normalize. 

Jones and other University leaders are assessing the potential longer-term economic impacts of reductions in expected monthly revenues from federal dollars in case the shutdown continues into the coming weeks and months. The Office of Government and Community Relations is communicating with the University’s congressional delegation to make them aware of how the closure is affecting Penn State, and the potential impact of a protracted shutdown. The University also is working together with other educational institutions through the Association of American Universities to communicate the potential effects on major research enterprises like Penn State.  AAU has been vocal in seeking an end to the stalemate since it began Dec. 21. 

University leaders recognize that throughout this challenge certain populations at Penn State—international graduate students, for instance—may feel especially vulnerable at the prospect of temporary work stoppages within their own areas. To confront these challenges, colleges and institutes have been asked by the administration to develop contingency funding plans to address short-term needs.  

For all students who are affected by the shutdown, Penn State offers a variety of resources, which were shared in a Jan. 10 letter to all students from Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims. These resources include: 

  • Penn State Crisis Line (877-229-6400), which is available to anyone who is, or knows someone who is, suffering a mental health crisis. 

Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs has advised that it does not expect to receive any new awards, funding increments, payments, modifications, or other approvals from agencies affected by the shutdown. In addition, Penn State must continue to comply with all federal terms and conditions, including reporting requirements, regardless of the duration of the shutdown.  

Anyone who may receive any notices of termination, suspension, or “stop work” orders, should immediately forward them to osp@psu.edu. Graduate students, faculty and staff with additional questions or concerns about how the government closure is affecting them are encouraged to contact their college or unit leadership. 

“The innovations and ideas developed at Penn State and the education we provide to our students are vital to society, and our operations support the economies of communities across the Commonwealth,” said Jones. “Like the rest of the country, we are already feeling the effects of this shutdown in minor ways, and, if it continues, it may have more significant economic consequences for the University and our communities. As we work together to make the impact as least disruptive as possible to our students and employees, we strongly urge Congress and the president to end this impasse.” 

Jones said University leaders will share more information as plans to prepare the University to possibly weather a longer-term shutdown are finalized.