JPL Workforce Update

JPL statement issued on Feb. 6, 2024:

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. JPL staff has been advised that the workforce reduction will affect approximately 530 of our colleagues, an impact of about 8%, plus approximately 40 additional members of our contractor workforce. The impacts will occur across 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 following is the text of a memo sent earlier today from JPL Director Laurie Leshin to employees.

Dear Colleagues,

Today I’m writing to share some difficult news. While we still do not have an FY24 appropriation or the final word from Congress on our Mars Sample Return (MSR) budget allocation, we are now in a position where we must take further significant action to reduce our spending, which will result in layoffs of JPL employees and an additional release of contractors. These cuts are among the most challenging that we have had to make even as we have sought to reduce our spending in recent months.

The workforce reduction will affect approximately 530 of our JPL colleagues, an impact of about 8%, and approximately 40 additional members of our contractor workforce.

I am writing to share as much detail and clarity on our actions as I can, including reviewing the factors that have led to this decision, and our next steps. First, how we got here. Without an approved federal budget including final allocation for MSR FY24 funding levels, NASA previously directed JPL to plan for an MSR budget of $300M. This is consistent with the low end of congressional markups of NASA’s budget and a 63% decrease over the FY23 level. 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. Earlier this month, we further reduced spending by releasing some of our valued on-site contractors.

Unfortunately, those actions alone are not enough for us to make it through the remainder of the fiscal year. 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.

To adjust to the much lower MSR budget levels in NASA’s direction to us, we must reduce our workforce in both technical and support areas of the Lab, and across different organizations. We must streamline our operations while maintaining a level of expertise, creativity, technical agility, and innovation that will enable us to continue to do vital work and deliver on our current missions, including MSR. As I have shared before, the decisions we are making and our path forward are based on our assessment of future mission needs and work requirements across the Lab.

I’d like to share some details about what to expect. Our desire in this process is that impacted employees quickly get to the point where they will receive personalized attention during this transition. In an effort to bring clarity to everyone as quickly as we can, the details of our workforce reductions will be communicated in a single day – tomorrow. We are sharing this information with you today so that you can make personal arrangements for working from home and plan your schedules to be available for the virtual workforce update meetings described below.

Given the challenge and scale of this workforce action, our approach has prioritized minimizing stress by notifying everyone quickly whether they are impacted or not. Then we can rapidly pivot to focus on providing opportunities for personalized support to our impacted colleagues, including scheduling dedicated time to discuss their benefits and several other forms of assistance.

For additional important details, please read the following information carefully:

  1. I am directing most employees to work from home tomorrow, Wednesday, February 7, so everyone can be in a safe, comfortable environment on a stressful day. Most individuals will not be able to enter the Lab during this mandatory remote work day. A Lab access list has been created and those who will have access will be notified by email shortly. If you do not receive an email instructing you to be on Lab, please plan to work remotely, regardless of your telework agreement status. In addition, and to ensure we have everyone’s accurate contact information, I am also asking everyone to please review and update your personal email and phone number in Workday today.
  2. Tomorrow, leadership (mostly at the Division and Directorate level) will hold brief mandatory virtual workforce update meetings with their JPL teams. You will each be invited to one of these. Please look out for those online meeting invitations and ensure your attendance. Meeting times will vary depending on the organization, but all will happen tomorrow. In those meetings, your managers will reiterate some of the details I’m sharing here, along with giving some insight into the impact of the layoff in that organization. Even those organizations that do not have impacted employees will be meeting to ensure we are all hearing the same information. Importantly, we will not be sharing any specifics about any individual employees who are impacted.
  3. Just following their virtual workforce update meeting, every employee who was invited to the meeting will receive an email notifying them whether they are being impacted by the layoff or not. We encourage impacted employees to forward this email to their personal email account immediately, as NASA requires that access to JPL systems be shut off very shortly following the notification.
  4. If your role is impacted, you will receive personalized information electronically, and you will be able to schedule discussions with trained professionals to review the information about your benefits and the transitional support options available to you. All impacted employees will continue to receive their base pay and benefits through their 60-day notice period, though they will not be on Lab or be expected to work during this time, unless specific transitional input is requested. If eligible, impacted employees will be offered a severance package as outlined in Caltech’s severance policy, transitional benefits including placement services, and other benefits resource information.
  5. If you are not an impacted employee, following your virtual workforce update meeting, you will receive an email letting you know that you are not impacted by the workforce reduction. There will also be resources available for you. As we move forward, I am asking your leaders and managers to meet with you and your teams to address your questions and concerns as best they can, to create space where our teams can support each other, and reinforce access to additional resources. We will also be scheduling a Town Hall soon to share more information about our path forward, and offer space for discussion.

To our colleagues who will be leaving JPL, I want you to know how grateful I am for the exceptional contributions you have made to our mission and our community. Your talents leave a lasting mark on JPL. You will always be a part of our story and you have made a positive difference here.

This is by far the hardest action I have had to take since becoming Director of JPL, and I know I join all of you in wishing it was not necessary. We will always value our colleagues who are leaving the Laboratory and they will be missed as we go forward. For those continuing on JPL’s journey, we will come through this difficult time and keep moving ahead on our essential missions, research, and technology work for NASA and the nation.

Thank you for your support of one another in this challenging moment.

Laurie

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