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Biodefense, weather, space projects hit hard
Shutdown dries up work in R&D sector
The Mitre Corp., another nonprofit that works with defense and intelligence agencies, says at least some of its programs have been subject to stop work orders.
And Sandia National Laboratories, which helps oversee the safety of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, is warning it will furlough most of its 18,000 employees later this month without a congressional deal to end the shutdown, according to reports Wednesday.
While much public attention on the shutdown has focused on access to national monuments and the congressional stalemate, federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), which handle billions of dollars in projects in areas such as biodefense, space and weather, are shedding jobs and slashing costs as work orders dry up.
Often nonprofit organizations, FFRDCs don’t compete with contractors and operate under special agreements with the government.
Citing concern about pending furloughs at Sandia, Los Alamos National Labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, Rep. Stevan Pearce, New Mexico Republican, called on the Department of Energy on Wednesday to guarantee back pay for contract employees at the facilities. The House has previously voted to give out of work federal employees back pay.
“The employees at our national labs and WIPP play a key role in our nation’s defense and growing our economy by focusing on everything from the development of weapons systems to energy efficiency studies,” Mr. Pearce wrote.
The Energy Department did not respond to inquiries about the impact of the shutdown on research institutions sponsored by the department.
But New Mexico isn’t the only state where government research organizations are cutting back.
“We’re authorized to work but we don’t have the funding,” said Sabrina Steele, a spokeswoman for the Aerospace Corp. The California-based nonprofit began a partial shutdown on Oct. 3, after the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center told officials to halt work on all but “excepted mission-critical tasks.”
The move put 2,000 of the institution’s 3,500 employees out of work.
“As the shutdown continues, financial and emotional hardships will exist,” Aerospace Corp. chief executive officer Wanda Austin wrote in a memo to employees Monday.
Closer to Washington, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is based at the University of Virginia and operates the world’s largest radio telescope, said it has suspended all U.S. operations because of the shutdown, sending home everyone except a small skeleton crew.
The Mitre Corp., which operates multiple FFRDCs, hasn’t announced any layoffs but officials said they’re working to understand the implications of the shutdown.
“We’ve been informed that some programs are subject to stop work orders,” Mitre spokeswoman Karina Wright wrote in an email. “This is a fluid situation and we are staying in close contact with our sponsors to understand their decisions as the evolve.”
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