As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, the US government is in a partial shutdown right now. This means that roughly 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid right now, about half of which are forced to work without pay and the other half, the “non-essential personnel,” are furloughed and forced to not do anything work related during this time. It is truly awful for many people on several levels. Let’s hope that it ends soon, and I encourage Americans to write to their members of Congress to persuade them to work (even harder) towards the solution you desire.
This shutdown has negative ramifications for JGR Space Physics and AGU publications as a whole. First off, there are civil servants that accepted reviewing assignments before the shutdown and now cannot legally complete this work. Authors are getting frustrated with the extended timeline to manuscript decisions. Second, there are civil servants who are authors or coauthors on papers, and these are not being submitted or resubmitted into the system. We will patiently wait for these manuscript resubmissions, of course, but it is sad to see them sit in the system “waiting for revision.” Third, civil servants cannot respond to review requests, so the editors are having to rely on others in the community to take on this shifted reviewing workload. Without the civil servant researchers, it is taking a bit longer, on average, to find two reviewers for each new manuscript. Fourth, for those that use research tools that are now shut down or turned off, like government websites, computing resources, office space, or lab facilities, you cannot do that work right now. The shutdown of NASA, NSF, and NOAA, just to name a few agencies, is impairing scientific progress. These impacts alone are significant and having a noticeable negative effect on space physics research.
For JGR Space Physics in particular, one of the editors, Dr. Larry Kepko, is a civil servant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His editorial duties are part of his official workflow so doing GEMS manuscript processing is off limits for him. I had a previously declined manuscript, originally assigned to him, just get submitted again, and so I contacted him (outside of his official NASA email address) about editorial work and he explained that he is legally unable to do this work.
Fortunately, this only affects ~10 manuscripts in the GEMS system right now. I have been ramping down his assignments of normal papers has he took on the role of Centennial liaison for the journal, including organizing community invitations for papers to two centennial-related special sections. I see in GEMS, though, that there are some manuscripts “with editor for decision” for the entirety of the shutdown. I am sorry to those authors that have been waiting for decisions on these manuscripts, this is an unpleasant consequence of the government shutdown. If you are one of these authors, I truly regret that this has happened to you and we will get this paper moving through the editorial system again very soon. I have already asked AGU HQ staff to shift some of these manuscripts over to other editors, and will be shifting the rest in the days to come.
For the civil servants and on-site contractors out there – I am wholeheartedly with you in spirit. I was a grad student working at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center during the 1995 government shutdown, locked out of the office for 3 weeks right before that year’s Fall AGU Meeting. It was difficult getting the work done and a presentation put together in time for the conference. This new shutdown is now longer than that one, and the stalemate persists with no end in sight. I am very sorry that you are going through this.
For the rest of you, please remember that we are missing a fraction of our colleagues right now, who are not only locked out of their offices but also technically forbidden to do any work. We, the journal editors, might be asking for another reviewing assignment for you at a more rapid cadence than usual. Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience and please seriously consider taking up the mantle of the extra duty as we get through this tough time. Also, manuscripts might take longer to get through the editorial process right now, as we deal with no US civil servants being available for participation in the publication flow.