PNNL expected to furlough up to 35 workers

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldOctober 9, 2013 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is expected to start some limited furloughs next week because of the federal government shutdown.

The Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland has been operating with limited money not spent in previous years after the federal government shutdown began Oct. 1, the first day of the new federal fiscal year with no money appropriated by Congress.

PNNL's goal is to keep the lab open as long as possible if the federal government shutdown continues.

However, it is placing up to 35 employees on furloughs, or unpaid leave, next week. If the federal government shutdown continues much longer, more employees are expected to be furloughed, but a shutdown of the entire lab could be delayed for a substantial amount of time.

Workers on furlough would be allowed to draw vacation pay, if they have any vacation time to use.

Laboratory leaders are concerned about the cost of stopping scientific experiments and shutting down scientific equipment in a full closure of the lab.

But some other national labs are preparing to close this month until more money is appropriated.

Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico told employees in a memo Wednesday that the lab would close its door Oct. 18 and employees not needed to ensure safety and security at the lab will be placed on unpaid furlough.

Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico also is preparing to shut down by Oct. 21, Weapons Complex Monitor reported.

PNNL has increased steps to save money over the past week, including telling employees to defer travel. Initially employees had only been told to make sure the events they were traveling to were still being offered.

"This is a very complex situation, with no uniform answers," lab director Michael Kluse said in a message to employees Oct. 4. "We have a range of scenarios to manage from staff that have funding for the current year to those who won't have funding until the shutdown is resolved."

The shutdown already has resulted in some project delays and disruptions, even with carryover money alleviating some of the initial impact, he said.

DOE did not respond to a request for information sent to Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon.

Herald questions about DOE's plans for the Hanford nuclear reservation also have been referred to officials in Washington, D.C., with little concrete information released.

DOE released a statement Tuesday in response to questions about Hanford saying that DOE can operate for a short period of time without funding for fiscal 2014. But if a resolution to the shutdown is not found in the near term, DOE will be forced to take action to shut down nonessential operations, resulting in federal and contractor employee furloughs, the statement said.

"It is our hope that this will ultimately be unnecessary and that Congress will come to a quick resolution," the statement said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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