Maryland researchers expect no immediate shutdown interruptions

April 08, 2011|By Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

As a federal government shutdown loomed Friday, researchers at Maryland's medical institutions are planning to continue their work on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects without disruption — at least for now.

Johns Hopkins is the nation's largest recipient of grant money from the National Institutes of Health, with $610.5 million in awards in fiscal 2010. With the money allocated and projects under way, the work should not be interrupted, according to Dr. Daniel E. Ford, vice dean for clinical investigation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"If there was a government shutdown, Johns Hopkins would not stop ongoing research projects funded by NIH grants, but no new federal research projects would be started," Ford said in a statement. "Federal research contract activities would stop if we received a stop work order or ran out of funded authorization. We would not stop any study that would put a patient at risk."

Ford also said if the shutdown lasted longer than a week or two, the university would "re-examine the need for more disruptive measures."

Hopkins, the University of Maryland, private companies and nonprofits that also receive government funding do not employ federal workers and can continue using funds already allocated.

Maryland, which received more than $200 million in NIH money in fiscal 2010, also did not anticipate any immediate impact.

Both universities also receive other government funding, but NIH money is a big share. And the bulk of that money is used for medical research. The researchers study both basic science that helps with the understanding of diseases and potential therapies. They also participate in clinical trials that test new treatments on patients.

At Hopkins, for example, researchers are studying changes in the genome in cancer cells so they can develop drugs to stop those changes. Others are looking at how drugs and other small molecules disrupt a cell's biology and behavior so they may design better drugs. Another project involves studying immune cells for genetic changes that allow people to fight off infections, information that could lead to anti-rejection therapies for organ transplant recipients.

Such research at the federal level conducted by government workers would halt. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reports that there would be no new grants, no technical support for Head Start or local behavioral health services and no FDA review of new drugs or medical devices. The NIH Clinical Center, which conducts research, would not take additional patients or begin new trials.

Also impacted would be food and drug safety reporting and some Medicare services such as online advice.

Some federal services would continue because they have another funding source or they are necessary for the safety or protection of property.

They include implementation of health care reform, foster care grants and child support enforcement grants, suicide prevention hot lines, import monitoring by the Food and Drug Administration and Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The federal shutdown

With Congress and the White House yet to reach a budget agreement for this edition, the federal government was set to suspend operations beginning Saturday. Here's how a shutdown affects Marylanders:

•Federal employees, except those necessary for the "safety of life and protection of property," are furloughed.

•Military members will continue to work, but will not be paid until after the shutdown ends.

•National Park Service sites, including Fort McHenry, are closed, as are the National Zoo and the Smithsonian museums in Washington. The National Aquarium in Baltimore, a private organization, remains open.

•Taxpayers who file income tax returns using paper forms might have to wait longer for refunds. Electronic filers will continue to receive refunds at the regular pace.

•The Federal Housing Administration will stop backing new home mortgages.

•The U.S. Postal Service will continue to deliver mail.

•Social Security recipients will continue to receive checks. Doctors will continue to see Medicare patients.

•Passport offices will not accept new applications. Processing of pending applications might be slowed. Passport Day in the USA, an annual event scheduled for Saturday, including 30 in the Baltimore area, to allow citizens access to passport services without appointments, has been canceled.

•There will be no new approval of small business loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.

•Customer service at agencies such as the Social Security Administration could be affected.

•Air traffic controllers remain on the job.

•National Weather Service forecasts, as well as volcano and earthquake monitoring, will continue.

•The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster operations will stay open.

•U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff will report for work.

•NASA satellite operations, including the Hubble Space Telescope command at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, will continue.

•Federal income taxes are still due April 18.

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