Jeff Kershner remembers the last time the government shut down. Back in the mid-1990s, Kershner was with the Forest Service at their Logan, Idaho, office. "We literally had to lock the building, because everyone still comes in," said Kershner.
Kershner is now the director of the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, a division of the U.S. Geological Survey based in Bozeman, Mont. Last week, he prepared his staff for the possibility that they could be furloughed if Congress doesn't pass a funding bill by Sept. 30. Kershner said his office is trying to discourage employees from working in the event of a shutdown, but most people still want to work anyway -- which basically means they're working for free. "People still come in," he said. "That's just the way it is."
Even without the potential for a government shutdown, getting science done in their office has gotten harder in the past few years, Kershner said. The office has lost seven staff scientists to retirement -- including a grizzly bear biologist working in Glacier National Park, a vegetation specialist, a scientist who studied wildfire intensity and a wildlife ecology specialist -- but has only been able to replace one of them. What was once a 19-person scientific team is now down to 13. "We stay in the black by not replacing them," said Kershner.
The House has proposed another 9 percent budget cut for USGS next year.