I write today to call your attention to the many New Mexicans who work at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories who have been adversely affected by the continuing budget impasse in Congress and the resulting shutdown. As you know, these labs are essential to our nation's national security as well as its scientific and research capabilities. Their workforce is comprised of many of the smartest scientists, engineers, and researchers in our country, all of whom have devoted their careers to serving and protecting our nation.
This government shut down risks betraying these men and women who have made personal sacrifices for our collective security and technological advancement. While lab employees work for the contractors who manage the labs, they are subject to much of the same uncertainty as their colleagues in the federal workforce. While neither of the New Mexico NNSA laboratories have yet announced a need to furlough their workforce, a number of my constituents have written to my office or contacted me directly to share the stress of potentially being furloughed from the labs and missing out on a needed paycheck.
Today, the House of Representatives will pass H.R. 3223, the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, which would compensate all federal employees who would not otherwise receive their full salaries due to the shutdown. President Obama has declared that he supports the legislation and his office writes,
"Federal workers keep the Nation safe and secure and provide vital services that support the economic security of American families. The Administration appreciates that the Congress is acting promptly to move this bipartisan legislation and looks forward to the bill's swift passage."
The overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation demonstrates the clear Congressional desire that the federal workforce should not be adversely impacted by the shutdown nor should they shoulder the burden of its resulting uncertainty. While the employees of New Mexico's national laboratories are not included within the bill's specific terms, Congress clearly intends that those workers who provide such vital services for our nation should be insulated from the effects of a protracted shutdown.
It is my understanding that the Department of Energy can certify to the labs that it is an "allowable cost" for them to use their appropriated dollars to compensate their employees for back pay due to any furloughs caused by a shutdown. Due to the tremendous economic uncertainty currently faced by the laboratories' workforce, I urge you to certify as soon as possible that back pay will be allowable upon the restoration of government functions. The employees of our nation's national laboratories deserve to know that they will be fully compensated for their service to our nation.
Ben Ray Luján
Member of Congress