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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab lays off 8% of workforce citing lack of funds

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab has shown pink slips to about 530 people, or 8 per cent of its workforce, due to lack of funds, the agency said, amid layoffs in Big Tech companies globally.

Washington, Feb 7,2024: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has shown pink slips to about 530 people, or 8 per cent of its workforce, due to lack of funds, the agency said, amid layoffs in Big Tech companies globally.

About 40 additional members of contractor workforce have also been laid off.

“After exhausting all other measures to adjust to a lower budget from NASA, and in the absence of an FY24 appropriation from Congress, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce the JPL workforce through layoffs,” officials said in a statement.

The officials noted that the layoffs will have an impact on both technical and support areas of the Lab.

“These are painful but necessary adjustments that will enable us to adhere to our budget allocation while continuing our important work for NASA and our nation,” the statement said.

Based in California, JPL is federally funded but managed by the California Institute of Technology.

It leads NASA’s major science projects, such as the Curiosity and Perseverance rover missions on Mars; as well as the ambitious Mars sample return (MSR) campaign, which aims to ratchet the search for Red Planet life up to new and exciting levels.

An independent review board last year estimated that the cost of MSR campaign, planned to take flight by 2030, is likely to shoot to $11 billion from the earlier projected $8 billion.

As the numbers alarmed some members of Congress, they sought to rein in MSR’s costs. This led the Senate to allocate just $300 million for MSR in its fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill — a 63 per cent decrease from the funding granted in 2023, noted JPL Director Laurie Leshin in a letter to employees that the lab released with the layoff announcement.

“In response to this direction, and in an effort to protect our workforce, we implemented a hiring freeze, reduced MSR contracts, and implemented cuts to burden budgets across the Lab,” she wrote in the letter.

“Earlier this month, we further reduced spending by releasing some of our valued on-site contractors.”

However, as it turned out, these measures “are not enough for us to make it through the remainder of the fiscal year”, she added. “So in the absence of an appropriation, and as much as we wish we didn’t need to take this action, we must now move forward to protect against even deeper cuts later were we to wait.”

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