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Government shutdown affects researchers, veterans at USF

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 02:10


USF is known for being one of the most veteran-friendly and top research universities in the state, but as the partial government shutdown enters its second week, these programs may be some of the first to be affected. 

Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veterans Services, said his office is already seeing the effects of the federal shutdown.

On Tuesday, Jeanine Frederick, the VetSuccess campus coordinator, was put on a federally mandated furlough. 

Braue said Frederick had 14 years of experience as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and was the “office expert” on everything dealing with the Veterans Affairs  system.

“She is an instrumental part of the office,” he said. “Her furlough affects us all because we rely on her for all of our questions. Now, if we need to know something, I guess we’ll have to get on the phones and call around and see what we can find.”

Frederick’s furlough leaves the 1,700 veteran students on the Tampa campus without vocational rehabilitation and academic and career

counseling. 

Braue said these services are an important resource, especially when dealing with war veterans.

“It’s creating a lot of anxiety with veterans at the school,” he said. “Some of these veterans are disabled or have other issues and they need someone there to help them

readjust and help them with their academics. We’ve already had veterans come in with questions that we just can’t answer without her here.”

Some of the concerns that veterans have about their benefits may be warranted if the shutdown continues. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) public affairs office recently released a statement that said military veterans might begin losing their benefits as early as “late October.”

“Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October,” it stated. “However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”

The VA also furloughed the 7,000 workers who process veterans’ claims Tuesday. 

As a result, veterans waiting on program awards, or who put in an application, will have to wait to until the government opens again. 

“This could possibly jeopardize someone’s ability to go back to school and will bring to a halt anyone who’s filed any sort of application for funding,” Braue said.

Another function of the university with funding in jeopardy from the shutdown is its federally funded research programs.

During the 2010-11 school year, researchers received $221 million in federal funding, making up more than half of the total research expenditures.

In 2010, USF was ranked No. 31 in total research expenditures and No. 27 in federal research expenditures by the National Science Foundation (NSF) — the same foundation that disabled its online resources for researchers on Oct. 1 and said it will not issue any new grants until the federal government reopens.

The NSF’s website states it will not address researchers whose deadlines or target dates occurred during the shutdown until “normal operations resume.” 

The site also indicated there may be a delay in issuing funds to researchers who are working on projects with multi-year continuing grants.

In addition to freezing funds, many online resources used by researchers have become inaccessible. 

Websites such as the Library of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, have all been temporarily disabled.

Sudeep Sarkar, a professor of computer science and engineering and associate vice president for research and innovation, has been a researcher at USF since 1993.

During the last partial government shutdown in 1995, Sarkar was working on a federally funded project for photo recognition. 

While researchers around the U.S. may be panicking about where research stands during a government shutdown, Sarkar said he doesn’t remember any lack of funding during the last shutdown.

“The research was only during the December, January time frame and I’m not sure if the department shielded any cuts, but I didn’t see any changes to my funding,” he said.

Though the university officials said they don’t know of any researchers being asked to discontinue their work or cut spending, Sarkar said he recommends researchers stay vigilant.

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