Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tales from a Government Shutdown

(Disclaimer: These views are my own. These experiences are my own. I don't speak for my company, NASA, or the federal government..)
 
Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably already know that as of midnight on Monday, the federal government shut down due to lack of a budget to begin the new fiscal year.

I could go on and on about politics, but instead I thought I'd tell you about our lives while the government is shut down. Though Dan and I are contractors, not civil servants, we support a federal agency and therefore are definitely impacted by the shutdown.

For civil servants, there is a complete work stoppage. They are not allowed to come to work, not allowed to work from home, even answering an email is against the law. They are also not getting paid, although Congress is able to pass a resolution to back-pay civil servants for the time they were furloughed (which they are already considering doing).

As part of the shutdown, people are only allowed to report to the physical space centers for critical operations. Civil servants are already forbidden from work, but for contractors (which are the majority of workers all across NASA centers) there's a mixed bag... from furlough and no pay, to mandatory vacation, to paid telework, etc.

As luck would have it, I was regularly scheduled to be on console last week. Everyone scheduled for console (civil servant or contractor) is allowed to report on-site for duty and work as normal. Console is considered a critical operation: we have 6 astronauts/cosmonauts and a space station to keep alive and well, and we fly 24-7-365 regardless of the shutdown.

For the contract Dan and I are on, we cannot go to work except for critical ops, but are allowed to telework using NASA assets (our NASA-issued laptops and the VPN system) as much as we can. However much of our jobs involves being on-site- sims, crew training, flight controller training, and testing software. There's only so much paperwork we can do, probably enough for a couple weeks before we would need either help from a civil servant or a JSC facility to do our jobs. For the hours we cannot make each week, we are able to charge either vacation or no pay. Dan doesn't have a lot of vacation, so he will be taking a reduced paycheck rather than use his vacation hours. Dan already teleworked all last week while I was off being "critical," and we both will be teleworking starting next week until the shutdown is over.

And Dan and I are the luckiest among my contractor friends. Some of my coworkers on other contracts are getting paid still, but are not allowed to work. They are forced to use their vacation time, which could be a big impact for them if they were trying to save their vacation time for the holidays or other plans but have to use it now instead. Another friend on another contract is also in the telework wagon, but they are not able to use any NASA assets (including their laptops and even the government-owned servers!) so are basically unable to work very much. And all contractors are only this lucky until their contract's forward funding runs out- anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. Then they go on indefinite furlough as well.


On the bright side, since we have been home more than usual, we have had a chance to clean the house and I spent all Friday (since Thursday was my last console shift) working on my first paper for grad school that's due tomorrow. So it's not all terrible, but we certainly can't go on like this forever. Besides, we came here for a job, and we'd really like to do it!

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