U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham are working to ensure that federal workers in New Mexico are not financially hurt in the long-term by the federal government shutdown.
New Mexico is home to roughly 27,000 federal workers, and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) employ an additional 18,000 New Mexicans.
All four lawmakers are strong supporters of the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act to ensure federal employees, furloughed through no fault of their own during the government shutdown, will be paid when the government reopens. Luján and Lujan Grisham voted for the bill, which passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday. In the Senate, Udall and Heinrich are cosponsors of the same measure. All four lawmakers also supported a bill, which has been signed into law, ensuring members of the military will be paid during the shutdown.
Additionally, the N.M. lawmakers sent a letter to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz, urging him to ensure employees at New Mexico's national laboratories are compensated if they are furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.
In their letter to Moniz, the lawmakers note that although workers at SNL and LANL are contract employees, "they are subject to much of the same uncertainties as their colleagues in the federal workforce."
"Congress clearly intends that those workers who provide such vital services for our nation should be insulated from the effects of a protracted shutdown," the lawmakers wrote.
"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," the lawmakers continued. "Due to the tremendous economic uncertainty currently faced by the laboratories' workforce, we 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."
Sandia officials announced today that they will be forced to begin to shut down and furlough much of the lab's workforce by Oct. 21 if the budget impasse is not resolved. LANL officials also have told employees that the lab has a limited ability to stay open in the government shutdown.
Udall and Heinrich both voted for a clean funding compromise bill, which has twice passed the Senate. If the House of Representatives were to pass this bill, the president would sign it and the government would reopen, preventing thousands of lab employees from being furloughed. Luján and Lujan Grisham have signed a letter to Speaker John Boehner calling on him to immediately allow a vote on the Senate-passed clean funding compromise.
The following is the text of the lawmakers' letter to Moniz:
We 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 our offices or contacted us directly to share the stress of potentially being furloughed from the labs and missing out on a needed paycheck.
The House of Representatives has passed 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 our 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, we 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.