Shutdown furloughs affecting Bay Area contractors

October 7, 2013 5:25:21 PM PDT
Sunday night's earthquake in the East Bay underscores just one impact of the federal government shutdown. No one at the U.S. Geological Survey was on duty to help identify the location and magnitude.

USGS geologists say that in the event of a major earthquake, they will go back to work in spite of the furlough. But for the time being, their work is being shifted across the bay, to UC Berkeley.

At the USGS office in Menlo Park, the only vehicles in the parking lot sport government license plates and there is no one to drive them to do geological site surveys and research. The offices remain closed. "We are not returning phone calls or emails until further notice," their answering machine said Monday.

That means there is no one monitoring the seismographs -- at least not there. The government shutdown has shifted that work to its partners at UC Berkeley and at Caltech. Seismologist Peggy Hellweg says it's a workable solution for now, but not for the long-term.

"If they're out for longer, who knows whether the computer system will continue to run and if their system for collecting data goes down, then we're probably in big trouble because Berkeley has many fewer stations than the USGS does," Hellweg said.

Furloughs are spreading to government contractors. Lockheed Martin said Monday it will send home 3,000 employees as a result of the federal shutdown. The number of furloughs in Silicon Valley isn't known. Lockheed Martin operates its space systems facility in Sunnyvale under tight security. It has smaller offices throughout the valley.

A call to the company's regional spokesman was not returned.

Next to be impacted will be Lawrence Livermore Lab, which has 6,000 contract employees. A decision may come midweek about furloughs from the Department of Energy. In the meantime, their jobs are safe until Friday. However, unlike federal employees, the lab's contract workers will not get retroactive pay when the shutdown ends.


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