Because my last post was an update about my working experience here in New Mexico, I feel like I should follow that up with some thoughts on the couple weeks following.
Until recently, I haven’t been directly affected, we had some carryover funds to continue operations, and were just cutting back on spending and travel. However, as of next Friday, I will be out of work, on unpaid furlough, in the absence of a budget. Unfortunately, I will also be unlikely to receive retroactive pay as a federal employee, because of the structure of the national labs.
The DOE contracts out the management of the 17 national labs to private companies, so all DOE scientists at these labs are therefore contractors, and not federal employees. Generally we are treated as such, however not in the case of situations like retroactive pay.
This shutdown is heavily affecting R&D in this country, and therefore worldwide, as has been covered by many sources, such as C&EN, Scientific American, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, CNN, Science, and Nature. (Let me know if you want the full text of the Science or Nature articles.)
Upon hearing about the sneaky move of House Resolution 367, passed on 9/30/13, the day before the shutdown, which only allows the House Majority Leader to put forth a vote, I decided to read the text myself. I decided to read the text of Resoultion 59, which gives continuing appropriations to keep the government running in absence of a budget for FY14.
Obviously I’m not entirely fluent in legalese, but my reading doesn’t interpret it in that we can even be furloughed. I decided to email my congressmen:
I am an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who will be furloughed as of close of business on 10/18/13, unless a budget is passed to continue funding. While there are many terrible things about this shutdown, I am particularly concerned about the lack of retroactive pay in the case of a furlough for government contractors, such as me and all of the personnel in the DOE National Lab system. For this, I’m very grateful for your support in the 10/5/13 letter to secretary Moniz.
Upon reading the text of House Resolution 59, section 112, I question the validity of these furloughs at all:
“Sec. 112. Amounts made available under section 101 for civilian personnel compensation and benefits in each department and agency may be apportioned up to the rate for operations necessary to avoid furloughs within such department or agency, consistent with the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2013, except that such authority provided under this section shall not be used until after the department or agency has taken all necessary actions to reduce or defer non-personnel-related administrative expenses.”
Am I misinterpreting this, or does this not imply that the DOE may appropriate funds to contractors running the National Labs, such as LANS, which would enable them to continue working, only with less funding for administrative expenses?
Thank you for your assistance and representation during this awful situation.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t think that through, and when I submitted it to Senator Udall, I was greeted with the following response:
“Thank you for contacting me.
Due to unfortunate brinksmanship in Congress, the federal government has shut down, and federal law requires that my offices close as well. During this time, we will be unable to check and respond to any messages through my website or by e-mail or phone. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but I will respond as soon as I can once the government reopens. In the meantime, please know that I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a solution to this senseless shutdown.”