JPL intends to lay off 8% of the workforce

JPL intends to lay off 8% of the workforce

Updated at 7:15 PM ET with comment from Rep. Chu.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced February 6 that it will lay off 530 employees, about 8% of its staff, due to uncertainty about its 2024 budget.

In a statement, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said it will lay off about 530 employees, as well as 40 contractors, after exhausting other cost-cutting efforts given potential spending reductions for NASA and specifically for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) program, a key program for Pasadena. California based center.

“After exhausting all other measures to adapt to a reduced NASA budget, and in the absence of (fiscal year 2024) appropriation from Congress, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce the JPL workforce through layoffs.”

The layoffs come a month after JPL laid off 100 contractors, many of whom worked at MSR. These layoffs were in response to NASA’s decision in November to reduce spending on MSR while the agency operates under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds programs at 2023 levels. Agency officials said in November that sharp differences in MSR funding between the 2024 House and Senate spending bills – $949.3 million in the House of Representatives compared to $300 million in the Senate – forced them to cut spending if Congress approved the lower spending level.

Lori Lishin, director of JPL, said in a Jan. 8 interview that she had warned employees about the possibility of layoffs. “I wanted to be transparent with the lab, and we always said there was a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “We’ve now come out and said, you know, layoffs are looking more likely, and there will certainly be some at some of these lower levels of funding.”

In a memo to JPL staff on February 6, Leshin said the lack of a final appropriations bill for 2024 — NASA is working on a CR that runs through March 8 — forced layoffs after other measures such as a hiring freeze and cuts in MSR contracts and other spending. , in addition to earlier layoffs of contractors.

“Therefore, in the absence of appropriations, as much as we wish we did not need to take this action, we must move forward now to protect against deeper cuts later if we wait,” she wrote.

Affected employees will be notified on February 7 after staff meetings, Lishin said in the memo. Most employees will work from home, “so everyone can be in a safe and comfortable environment on a stressful day,” she said.

NASA’s decision to reduce spending on MSR in the absence of a final 2024 spending bill has been strongly opposed by members of California’s congressional delegation. In November, six state congressmen wrote to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, warning of job losses and delays to MSR if NASA did not refund the program while waiting for the final bill.

On February 1, 44 members of Congress, representing most of California’s congressional delegation, wrote to Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, making the same request regarding MSR funding. “This short-sighted and misguided decision will cost hundreds of jobs and a decade of wasted science, and is inconsistent with the authority of Congress,” they wrote.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), whose district includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and helped deliver the latest letter to the White House, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the layoffs. “These cuts will devastate workers and Southern California in the short term, and will also harm the long-term viability of not only our Mars exploration program but also for many years of scientific discovery to come,” she said in a statement, adding that she hopes to develop a final spending bill that That would restore MSR funding and allow JPL to rehire workers.

In a statement issued on February 6, Nelson defended the decision to reduce spending on the MSR, citing wide differences between the House and Senate bills, as well as NASA’s ongoing review of the MSR structure prompted by an independent review last year.

“This decision is necessary because fiscal year 2024 appropriations, which actually began on October 1, 2023, have not been approved by Congress and the Senate Appropriations Committee has reported the lowest level of approved funding,” he said. “Spending more than this amount, with no final legislation, would be unwise and spending money NASA does not have.”

“JPL has long been — and will continue to be — a shining example of America’s leadership in space,” he said, but added that “these painful decisions are difficult, and we will feel this loss across the NASA family.”

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