The shutdown chronicles 2: good enough for government work?

Good enough for government work

Etymology: This idiomatic expression was originally used in World War II to indicate that a product satisfied the high standards of quality demanded by the US government and could therefore be accepted towards efforts to win the war. However, since the early 1960’s the conversational use of the phrase has become predominantly disparaging for products or work effort that may be of mediocre quality. You can read more about this etymology in this blog from FCW

This follow-up on last week’s post about impacts of the partial US government shutdown comes at a time when many of our federal colleagues are increasingly feeling the dire personal consequences of not receiving a paycheck (federal staff) or effectively being laid off (the many contractors working for federal science and management agencies). I do not want to detract from their plight, but here I do want to focus on the science side of things for our blog.

As the partial shutdown is about to continue into the 6th week, the impacts on science are widening and becoming more prominent. Many of our scientific research projects at the Alaska SeaLife Center operate under federal funding, through grants from NOAA, the National Science Foundation, or the US Fish & Wildlife Service – all shut down. While we can continue to work on these projects, suddenly the many critical roles that our federal colleagues have in these projects become more apparent. Collaborative data analyses are on standby as we can’t exchange process steps or results. Publications we are working on can’t be completed as we can’t exchange draft documents. Manuscripts submitted for publication in the public domain may be awaiting reviews from federal scientists. Federal permit applications – while open for submission – won’t be reviewed or processed. I likely won’t be able to submit my final NOAA project report on time because I can’t consult with my federal colleagues on their contributions to the project. And the list goes on and on…

Even more troubling are the impacts on many other aspects of effective management of our marine resources for which our federal colleagues play important roles. Federal marine scientists are tasked with many critical monitoring, stock assessment and population modeling efforts that are an integral component of properly managing fisheries and other marine resources. Resource use quotas may have to be set, and they require updated stock assessment results, which in turn requires monitoring or survey efforts, analytical and modeling efforts, presentation to and digestion of results by the groups coordinating or setting quotas (e.g. councils, committees).

The citizen science program “Steller Watch” helps NOAA scientists understand endangered Steller sea lions…but they haven’t been able to monitor the project during the shutdown.
Click here for more information and to participate in the program!

In reflecting on the many important and often critical contributions by federal scientists – especially for fisheries management, my mind stumbled back to remarks I made jokingly recently about some of my work being ‘good enough for government work’. I now feel really bad about having said that, and realize that such a statement may seem inappropriately disparaging the high quality work that my colleagues do. I apologize for that remark, and vow not to use that phrase again – at least not in the contemporary, derogatory meaning. Maybe I will use it in the original, positive and supportive meaning. What our federal scientist colleagues do IS good enough for government work, in the original sense. Yet in the context of the shutdown, I can’t help but wonder: is what’s currently happening in D.C. (or not happening, to be more accurate) good enough for government work? The answer is clearly a resounding no: not in the original intent of the idiom, and not even in the contemporary use.

UPDATE 1/25/19 10:50 a.m. AKST:
We just learned that apparently agreement was reached for a short-term funding bill to temporarily re-open the government until Feb. 15th. While that may help get some of the federal workers paid, it does not solve the problem of continued uncertainty about funding for critical activities in relation to the above listed topics. Planning for example for stock assessments or efforts towards setting quotas will still be handicapped by the funding uncertainty after Feb. 15th.

Written by: Markus Horning, Science Director

This article is “perspectives”; the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASLC

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