NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a “forward-funded” federal contractor and as such has not furloughed any of its employees as a result of the ongoing government shutdown, even when its mother agency NASA has resorted to furloughs to weather the crisis.
JPL spokesperson Veronica McGregor has indicated, however, that the facility “may have to consider some adjustments on a mission-by-mission basis” if Congress does not approve NASA funding by the end of January, according to media reports Tuesday.
JPL, which the California Institute of Technology manages for NASA, has about 6,000 employees and a $2.5 billion budget for 2018. The facility also receives funding for specific projects from NASA and other U.S. government agencies.
Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum on Tuesday issued a message for the Caltech community saying the institute’s operations continue despite the shutdown, but added “future negative consequences” could be possible – especially with regards to JPL.
“The most significant impact is on JPL,” Rosenbaum said. “Prior to the shutdown, laboratory management worked with NASA to maximize the available funding for JPL’s tasks. To date, JPL has been able to avoid furloughs, but may have to adjust staffing levels if the shutdown continues into February.”
Caltech recently signed a $15 billion five-year contract with NASA to operate JPL beginning October 2018. No one at either Caltech or JPL has agrees to state how long the funding would last, although some JPL contractors have told SpaceNews that Caltech has enough funding for JPL operations for most of February.
The current federal government shutdown, which began December 22, has been on for 28 days as of Friday, becoming the longest in U.S. history. Between December 1995 and January 1996, a federal government shutdown reached 21 days before ending.
In 2013, a similar shutdown ended after 16 days.
As for Caltech operations, Rosenbaum said the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy are unaffected by the shutdown.
By contrast, the National Science Foundation and the Department of the Interior, which funds the U.S. Geological Survey, are officially closed.
Rosenbaum said he will continue to monitor the situation, and will advise the Caltech and JPL community of any significant developments.