MIAMI
10/03/2013 03:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 04, 2013

Study Of Endangered Elkhorn Coral Halted By Government Shutdown

AP

"Personally, I'm extremely frustrated," Margaret Miller told The Huffington Post. "Because Congress isn't capable of doing their jobs, I get prevented from doing mine."

Miller is one Miamian affected by the federal government shutdown. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ecologist, she studies and surveys endangered elkhorn corals from the agency's labs on Virginia Key.

The work is essential to ecosystems and economies in South Florida and beyond. "Over the last 10,000 years, elkhorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals contributing to reef growth and development," the NOAA website explains.

But since 1980, 90 to 95 percent of elkhorn coral has disappeared.

"Populations have collapsed from disease outbreaks with losses compounded locally by hurricanes, increased predation, bleaching, elevated temperatures and other factors," according to the website.

The mandate to study endangered species is a federal one, however, and Miller is a federal employee. Though the rest of her research team could theoretically continue working -- they are University of Miami employees and students paid by a federal grant under a previous budget -- rules of the shutdown deny them access to NOAA's labs, boats, computers and equipment.

Miller's group not only surveys elkhorn's current population but studies its resilience and restoration possibilities. They were in the midst of a survey of 300 tagged colonies in the field, part of observation that has happened three times a year since 2004, when they were forced by the shutdown to abandon their work. "A lot of the important stuff government does as science is long-term evaluation," she explained.

The damage to in-progress testing and research will depend on how long the shutdown lasts.

"A day or two just causes a lot of inefficiencies, but long-term there's a lot of consequences ... Some of it is just delayed, and some of it is more serious," Miller said.

"On the internal side, your agency understands that we know we have a gap in the data because we couldn't help it. But when you go to publish that work or submit to reviewers or publishers, it's no good. And that's where scientists are really put in a bind by this situation: Scientific implementation is curtailed and it jeopardizes long-term data sets."

NOAA's Miami labs also are focused on endangered sea turtles and mammals, fish populations and ecology, the health of local estuaries, and more.

Research that factors into the larger Everglades restoration plan also has been halted; one team was set to sample mangroves in a nearby estuary during the first two weeks of October as it has for 15 years. Missing such seasonal windows, Miller said, "is a real impairment of our scientific endeavor."

RELATED ON HUFFPOST:

Amazing Sea Creatures

17/10/2013 05:30 BST

Obama Signs Budget Bill

From the White House:

On Thursday, October 17, 2013, the President signed into law:

H.R. 2775, the "Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014," which provides fiscal year 2014 appropriations for projects and activities of the Federal Government through Wednesday, January 15, 2014. The effective time for the continuing resolution begins on October 1, 2013. H.R. 2775 also extends the Nation's debt limit through February 7, 2014.

Read more here.

17/10/2013 04:58 BST

White House Receives Budget Legislation

17/10/2013 04:13 BST

Frank Lautenberg's Widow Reaps $174,000 In Senate Budget Bill

Hours before Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) won a New Jersey special senatorial election to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), U.S. senators paid tribute to Lautenberg in their own way.

Rushed to approve a 35-page deal to fund the government and avert a debt default, senators allowed a few unrelated provisions to slip through.

One was section 146, guaranteeing $174,000 -- the equivalent of one year's salary -- to Lautenberg's widow, Bonnie Englebart Lautenberg.

Read more here.

-- Ashley Alman

17/10/2013 03:59 BST

Federal Employees Back To Work Thursday

Director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell released the following statement Wednesday evening:

"Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning. Employees should be checking the news and OPM's website for further updates."

17/10/2013 03:36 BST

Stenographer Removed For Shouting On House Floor

A shouting stenographer was removed from the House floor as lawmakers voted on a deal to reopen the government and avoid a debt crisis.

The stenographer began shouting as the the House approved the number of votes needed to pass the bill. According to reporters, she was yelling about God and Freemasons:

-- Paige Lavender

17/10/2013 03:27 BST

House Vote: 285-144

The House voted 285-144 to reopen the federal government and raise the debt limit.

Read more here.

17/10/2013 03:18 BST

Republicans Score Amazing Own Goal

HuffPost's Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson report:

After voting this year to keep federal employees' pay frozen, Republicans in Congress have accidentally given many government workers their first raise in three years.


It's one of several unintended consequences of the Republican gambit to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government. It isn't a nominal raise, and it won't improve most workers' lives one bit. In fact, so far it's brought mostly misery and anxiety. But here's how it's a one-time raise.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been off the job for two weeks due to the government shutdown. As part of the deal hatched Wednesday to reopen the government, Congress included a measure to pay those workers retroactively for the time they missed, as a matter of fairness, just as it has in the budget impasses of yesteryear. The rationale: federal workers shouldn't have to pay the price for Congress's failures.

But in a symbol of just how wasteful a government shutdown is, lawmakers -- many of whom complain that the federal workforce is bloated, and who haven't granted workers a single cost-of-living adjustment since 2010 -- have forced federal employees to perform two fewer weeks of work for the same salary, all due to congressional squabbling. That's a full pay period, amounting to 3.8 percent of annual wages.

Read more here.

17/10/2013 03:14 BST

House Passes Budget Deal

The House has voted to end the latest damaging battle of divided government in a polarized Congress.

Read more here.

17/10/2013 03:13 BST

House Has The Votes

17/10/2013 03:05 BST

Mitch McConnell Wins The Praises Of... Democratic Leaders

HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery reports:

There was a lot of back-patting among Democratic leaders Wednesday after the Senate passed its bill to end the government shutdown and avert a debt default. But some of their most effusive praise was for the leader of the other party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at the eleventh hour to avoid catastrophe.

"The Republican leader's cooperation was essential to reach an accord," Reid told reporters, noting his sometimes rocky relationship with the GOP leader. "I've worked with McConnell for many years. The last bit has not been ... [long pause] good."

McConnell "stepped up to be [Reid's] partner when it really counted," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

Read more here.

CONVERSATIONS