Dear CIRA Colleagues and Friends,
As we continue to ride out the political gridlock in Washington DC, I thought it would be good to follow the example of CIRES and begin giving updates to you on the shutdown situation as we understand it. Also, I’d like to begin sharing what we are doing to alleviate current problems that are being felt more and more by parts of our CIRA family, and be as proactive as possible to anticipate and mitigate future problems as best we can. Thanks to quick work by our webmaster, Barbra Lashbrook, we now have this blog to help communicate these things to you.
I don’t mean for these messages to come across as “fireside chats,” and I’m afraid that I do not have good answers to many of the questions we currently have on the trickle-down impacts of this shutdown on places like CIRA. However, I will say that we are in communication with our sister Cooperative Institutes, many of whom are in the same boat as us, and we will share information and adopt best practices as they are identified. Introducing additional modes of communication (e.g., this blog) is one example. We also have an ongoing dialogue with higher levels of Colorado State University, mostly to keep them updated to our unique situation for now, but potentially to identify mitigation strategies if the shutdown continues into February.
In terms of the funding situation, currently, all our CIRA groups are covered through the end of March. Some groups have in-house coverage through the end of the fiscal year (30 June), and some even longer still. I think this puts us in a very good position to operate while this shutdown situation resolves, either through negotiations or through something major in the country’s infrastructure breaking, well before we are directly impacted in terms of funding. Even so, we are currently examining options for mitigating/extending coverages if needed. If the shutdown continues through the end of January, we will be in touch with those affected to identify various options. If you have immediate concerns please do not hesitate to contact us, but please know we are already looking out for you.
Our University is not requesting that we stop work on our federally-funded projects where the funding is already in-house, under the assumption that we can continue to find ways to be productive. Some of you have taken some time to write your annual reports and prepare materials for your self-appraisals. Others have found ways to code and test on older datasets. Some may be in the position to make focused progress on various reports/documentation and science papers. Some are meeting in various public places, at each other’s homes, etc. I’m not sure if Starbucks is willing to offer a CIRA discount, but we can look into it. 😉
In terms of office and meeting space for those who have lost it due to the closure of Federal facilities, we are working on additional accommodations for those who need them. I have touched base with representatives for our Boulder, Kansas City, and Washington DC groups regarding specific impacts and needs. We have begun this process for our Boulder group, who are not able to access their offices at the Skaggs building. In many cases, it is more about accessibility to their computer systems (e.g., access to NOAA’s “Theia” HPC) and datasets (which continue to flow into ESRL’s central facility in an automated way thanks to Bob Lipschutz’s team), which of course we cannot solve. But, in some cases, having a desk, stable internet, and a table to gather around can be helpful. If office space and meeting areas are needed, child care, etc., please let us know and we will try to identify solutions.
Another unique aspect of this shutdown for CIRA is that we are in the midst of a re-competition for our Cooperative Institute. As you know, we submitted our proposal for a new 10-year (5 + 5-year continuation, just like last time) Cooperative Agreement with NOAA last November, and presumably it was being reviewed along with those of any competitors when the government shut down. As our current agreement ends on 30 June 2019, we were hoping to hear word from NOAA on their selection sometime this month or next, allowing us to begin loading projects onto the new Cooperative Agreement number and not miss a beat across the 30 June fiscal year transition. With the shutdown, any NOAA staff involved in this process are not able to conduct their reviews. We will of course stay on top of this in communication with NOAA, but for now there is no reason for concern.
CIRA staff will not face reprimands for communicating with Federal staff during the shutdown, but the Feds must follow their guidance. Some may communicate via personal e-mail or text, and might even meet at various off-site locations in a private citizen context. It is up to the Federal staff as to whether they elect to engage with us, and in what capacity. Some Federal staff are exempted, and are required to work (without pay)—in those cases, our interactions can be more formal in nature. I have been apprised that whereas the @noaa.gov e-mails generate an auto-reply, those accounts are not in fact disabled. Exempted staff (and furloughed) are thus able to receive and view messages sent from us to those addresses, although they may be restricted to respond, at least via the noaa.gov address.
Let’s continue to develop our Federal proposals as best we can. I am aware of some situations where there are upcoming deadlines to submission to Grants.gov (which remains “open”), and there are elements of the proposals requiring NOAA input on budgets. Although we fully expect the deadlines to be extended, it would probably be best to make no assumptions, and submit your proposals in their most complete form possible. We would recommend inserting language clarifying that updates to NOAA elements will be provided upon resolution of the shutdown and availability of NOAA staff for these inputs. In any event, we will consider and evaluate the most appropriate actions/inactions for each proposal on an individual basis.
It is unclear whether today’s announcement by the President will spur additional negotiations leading toward an eventual agreement and end to the shutdown, or whether Congress will remain in a stalemate. I have given up on attempting to read the tea leaves of partisan politics. All we can do is to try our very best to remain positive and be productive, and not let worry over the future distract us from our important work, with full expectation that this will indeed come to a resolution. I spoke recently with Tom Vonder Haar, founding Director of CIRA, who has been around for “a while.” He reminded me that whereas administrations come and go, the University and our Cooperative Institute follow a more gradual and steady course. I think the message here is that while we must of course be responsive to our current situation–the long game is that we are an integral part of the NOAA enterprise, and the NOAA enterprise is essential to ensuring the Nation’s security and productivity.
Finally, please feel free to send us any specific questions/concerns/needs that you have. We will do all we can to address them. If they are not of a private nature, we may try to address them in a general way on this blog so that all can benefit.
I’m very sorry we are having to go through this. Thank you for your ongoing patience and understanding. For what it’s worth, and I think I can safely speak on behalf of the entire CIRA administrative staff here, we are personally committed to doing all we can to stay abreast of the situation as it unfolds and be both responsive to your emerging needs and proactive in identifying our options for running a steady course through these tumultuous times.
Thanks, and we’ll be in touch again soon,
Steven D. Miller
Acting CIRA Director
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