Government Shutdown Could Hit JPL Employees by End of January

If the federal government shutdown lasts through the end of January, it could hit home in La Cañada Flintridge and result in furloughs at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has about 6,000 full-time employees, a JPL official said.
“As you probably know, JPL was able to avoid furloughs during previous government shutdowns,” said spokeswoman Veronica McGregor by email. “If the current shutdown continues through the end of the month, we will have to consider some adjustments on a mission-by-mission basis. We continue to monitor the situation and its impact on the lab.”
McGregor said the term “adjustments” does not refer just to possible employee furloughs. It also includes stopping noncritical travel and deferring expenses where possible.
“We continue to review additional cost-saving measures that may be implemented,” McGregor noted.
A furlough places employees in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work, lack of funds or other nondisciplinary reasons, according to a NASA website featuring frequently asked questions regarding the shutdown.
“While most employees will be furloughed, centers have identified employees who will be required to work during the furlough,” the website stated.
A shutdown furlough, also called an emergency furlough, occurs when there is a lapse in government funding to the agency. In a shutdown furlough, NASA must shut down activities that are not “excepted” by law, according to the website.
A number of NASA’s civil servants have already been furloughed since the day the shutdown began on Dec. 26, according to McGregor.
JPL’s furlough will likely work differently, as NASA pays Caltech to manage JPL. The federally funded research center also receives varied funding for specific projects from other U.S. government agencies.
The government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, has no apparent end in sight. President Donald Trump has asked Congress to provide $5.7 billion for a southern border wall and is offering temporary deportation relief for some immigrants, multiple news media reported earlier this week. On Wednesday, House Democrats reportedly put together a new proposal to end the shutdown by offering billions of dollars for border security, but not a wall, to Trump. More than 800,000 federal workers are set to miss another paycheck on Friday, according to the Associated Press.
McGregor said there have been no JPL employee furloughs to date. Since JPL is a “forward-funded” or paid-in-advance contractor, missions and projects have received funding in advance of their activities and the timeline for their funding is individually set, she said.
Many NASA missions, including operating missions and those preparing for launch, are listed as “excepted” or not included in furlough status and will continue working through the shutdown, she added.
Employees with JPL reached by The Outlook on Wednesday declined to comment.
More information on the furlough can be found at nasa.gov/agency/furlough/index.html.

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