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No end in sight

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Shutdown > Clock is ticking on lab’s ability to sustain operations

By The Staff

Los Alamos National Laboratory employees reported to work Thursday as the federal government shutdown entered its third day.

It still was uncertain how long funds would be available to pay the 7,000 full-time employees.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has said carryover funds would be available for a week but a DOE spokesperson could not confirm that.

“As a result of the nature of DOE funding, the Department will be able to operate for a short period of time after September 30. However, if a resolution is not achieved in the near term, the Department will be forced to take further action to shutdown nonessential operations, resulting in employee and contractor furloughs. It is our hope that this will ultimately be unnecessary and that Congress will come to a quick resolution,” according to a DOE spokesperson.

The New Mexico Environment Department, meanwhile, remains in close contact with LANL regarding the impact of the federal shutdown on cleanup operations on lab grounds.

According to a statement from NMED spokesman Jim Winchester, the Environment Department has serious concerns regarding potential disruptions of operations if the federal shutdown continues beyond just a few days.

“NMED has concerns the TRU Waste 3706 Campaign to remove all above-ground transuranic waste off the lab grounds and ship it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant by June of 2014 will not be sustained at the current pace if a shutdown lingers,” the statement said.

“NMED strongly believes the federal shutdown is unacceptable and the department joins Governor Martinez in urging New Mexico’s federal delegation to move toward a quick resolution for the sake of the continued clean-up and protection of New Mexico’s precious resources.”

State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Sandoval and Rio Arriba) also issued a statement regarding the shutdown.

“Whether or not you agree with the Affordable Care Act, the viability and sustainability of Los Alamos and LANL depend on a continuing resolution to be passed and a budget approved. This issue is beyond partisan politics and threatens thousands of families in Los Alamos and the surrounding area. I am speaking with our federal delegation and urging them to continue to press their fellow members until Congress restarts the federal government,” Garcia Richard said.

“Los Alamos and our entire region depend on a predictable federal budget process, whether it be for LANL or our national monuments like Bandelier. I urge you to call the entire Congressional delegation in New Mexico and tell them you are against the continuation of the government shutdown. I will continue to talk with LANL as well as our federal delegation and keep a close eye on this situation as it develops, to ensure our biggest employer isn’t affected.”

A University of New Mexico economist says the federal government’s partial shutdown could thrust the state into another recession if it lasts for weeks.

Assistant professor of economics Christopher Erickson says the stakes are high for New Mexico because the state’s percentages of federal employees and military workers are twice the national average.

Erickson told the Santa Fe New Mexican that New Mexico’s economic growth already lags the rest of the country and that an extended reduction in government spending and employment would have a major impact.

He says an extended shutdown would mean that government workers have to dip into savings for daily living expenses and curtail their discretionary spending.

He says the cumulative effect could tip the state back into recession.