If ever there was an example of how quickly political winds can shift, look no further than the sudden end to a seemingly endless government shutdown on January 25th.
That Friday, the President unexpectedly announced that he would sign a bill to temporarily re-open government without funding for a border wall. The Senate rapidly passed this legislation (H.J. Res. 28) by voice vote, followed by the House of Representatives. By dinnertime on the west coast the bill had been signed by the President. The government was back open.
NASA and other federal science agencies are now returning to life. Next week, public employees will receive paychecks for the first time this year. Whether backpay will be provided to contractors during this period is unclear, as is the stability of funding for NASA and other science agencies after Feb 15th—the expiration date of this stopgap funding legislation.
While this action will help alleviate significant financial stress of the 800,000 public employees who have been working or furloughed without pay, it still maintains an untenable level of uncertainty for the nation's space and science agencies. Near-term planning will be heavily curtailed, and the prospect of yet another shutdown of indeterminate length will weigh heavily on the minds of employees and contractors alike.
The Planetary Society will continue to strongly argue for full-year appropriations for NASA and other science agencies—agencies that are completely unrelated to the political dispute at hand. Only then will the nation have a modicum of stability by which to pursue its critical science and exploration programs.