News Local/State

Partial Government Shutdown Creates Uncertainty, Inconvenience For Parkland College And U of I


The Blue Waters project office at the U of I's National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Anna Casey/Illinois Public Media

The partial government shutdown has already stalled Federal Aviation Administration flight testing at Parkland College in Champaign and could impact research funding at the University of Illinois. 

Bill Gropp, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the U of I, said the National Science Foundation has stopped reviewing grant proposals during the shutdown. Gropp said while no immediate funding is at stake, they have proposals that have gone in for a continuation of other projects.

“Our concern is that those decisions may not be able to be made in time,” Gropp said. “So far we’re keeping our fingers crossed, but if it goes on much longer it will start creating some challenges for us.”

The NCSA houses the Blue Waters project, one of the world’s largest super computers. It’s used by scientists from around the country for a variety of research efforts in everything from particle physics to meteorology.  The project is funded under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation, which is one of the federal agency's shuttered during the shutdown. 

“If we reach the point where, for example, we can’t pay the power bill because it uses a lot of power, then we’d have to shut the machine down,” Gropp said.

He added that he hopes the shutdown doesn’t get to that point. If it does, Gropp said it may mean staff will work on something else until the National Science Foundation resumes operations, but no jobs are at stake.

The Parkland College Assessment Center in Champaign, which offers testing for Federal Aviation Administration licenses, has seen a more immediate impact of the shutdown.

Shortly after returning from holiday break, the center’s staff received a notification from the Federal Aviation Administration to put testing for licensing and certification on hold, said Assessment Center spokesperson Kristin Smigielski.

“We had previously scheduled appointments upon our return,” Smigielski said. “We had to actually cancel some of those appointments that had been previously scheduled because we have not been able to test anyone since being back.”

Parkland College’s Assessment Center offers tests to about 300 people each year who are hoping to become certified to fly, operate a drone or receive other forms of licensing from the FAA.

Smigielski said that testing can resume Monday, but it’s unclear when test takers will receive their results as the shutdown stretches on. The FAA says air traffic controllers and other safety oversight for travelers is fully operational.