Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Shutdown; what's in store for us?

The news is awash with the shutdown of the US Federal Government this week, and as it looks like it's going to drag on for a while, we're trying to take stock of our situation.  We exist in a grey zone of not-federal-employees, but still working for a government program, so none of us are quite sure how this is going to play out.

As it currently stands, the USAP secured one last round of funding on September 30th, the day before the government shut down, which at standard procurement levels should last us through mid-October.  All purchasing and ordering has been frozen with the exception of critical life safety items and the bulk of that money has been earmarked for salaries, to make sure it can be stretched as far as possible.  So in the short-term, most of us are still okay, and will be for the next couple of weeks.  And as long as this thing gets straightened out before then, almost all science should continue as usual for the season, and we (at least the support crew here at Palmer) should be mostly unaffected.

However, if this drags on for more than a week or two, things are going to get complicated. 

The contract overseer, Lockheed Martian, pays us (the workers) with money that it gets from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is almost completely shut down right now.  While they (Lockheed) have enough money to pay us through mid/late October, once that money runs out, as long as the NSF/Federal government is still shuttered, Lockheed won't be getting any more. The majority of us on station are seasonal workers; we've signed contracts with either Lockheed or another company that promises us a specified wage as long as we're on station and working.

This would put Lockheed (or whichever company) in a position of being obligated to pay us out of their own pocket, even though they won't have any money coming in with which to do so.  And I'm quite sure that's not a position they want to be in.

If this shutdown looks like it will continue for more than a couple weeks, the plan is to begin an orderly transition to caretaker status at all of the stations.  Almost all science would be shut down, all science personnel would be sent off the ice, and the vast majority of support workers would be sent home as well.  I've heard different stories on how low they'd try and get the population; one rumor is that they'd go down to winter status, which for Palmer means ~15 people.  In that case, I'd probably stay.  However, I've also heard that they'd get the station down to an absolutely bare-bones skeleton crew; just enough to keep the buildings warm and prevent them from completely falling apart.  In that situation, the station would be down to 8 or 9 people; I would not be one of them.

This sort of operation would have very negative consequences and the longer we'd be in it, the longer it would take to recover from.  The logistical chain of supplying science down here is something that is often planned years in advance, and having a complete freeze-up would mean that many projects would have to go back to the drawing board.  A lot of experiments here are very seasonally dependent; the phytoplankton are going to breed exactly when they want to, they don't care if the government is shut down.  If the researchers miss the narrow window with which to start their work, the whole season is effectively written off.

That's where we currently stand; as long as this lasts just a week or so, we'll probably be okay, most things will continue as normal.  But if this lasts for two or three weeks, I might be getting a flight home much sooner than expected.


Jason - said...

Sucks :-(

Drewid95 said...

Oh wow man. This could really suck

Kathryn said...

Wishing you all the best. I work for local government so we are okay for now- but if this thing lasts we will be in trouble. Of course, no where near your kind of trouble!!