Mountain View Voice

News - October 4, 2013

NASA interns evicted as shutdown takes effect

Locals suffer as federal government shutdown causes closures, furloughs

by Eric Van Susteren and Andrea Gemmet

It's one thing to be out of work during the federal shutdown, but it's another to get evicted when you're far from home.

That's the situation NASA Ames interns found themselves in when many federal government operations ground to a halt at midnight Monday after Congress failed to pass a budget in the culmination of a bitter battle over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The first government shutdown in 17 years will not close the Department of Veterans Affairs or U.S. Postal Service, but NASA and the Menlo Park office of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have been shuttered.

Besides furloughing employees at Mountain View's NASA Ames Research Center, visitors cannot even gain access to NASA's website, which states: "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience."

NASA Ames intern James Mishra contacted the Voice to say that he and other interns who are housed on campus were evicted from their dorms on Tuesday. Interns were given a week's notice that they might have to find alternate housing during the shutdown, Mishra said.

"Most of the interns, including myself, were unfamiliar with the San Francisco Bay Area and struggled to make arrangements. Many senior scientists and engineers made generous offers to let interns stay at their homes," he said.

Members of Mountain View's Hacker Dojo have stepped into the breach, offering places to stay, and several members are offering the interns paid work at their startups during the shutdown, said Katy Levinson, the Dojo's director of development. Hacker Dojo got involved when NASA Ames interns started posting fliers asking for somewhere to stay, she said.

Levinson said she's trying to get confirmation of how many interns were ousted, and believes there are as many as 50. "We've verified the locations and safety of 15, and we're looking for the other 35," she said.

The dorm, called the NASA Exchange Lodge, is used by other companies in the summer, including Google and SETI, she said. "It can easily hold 600 kids. There are usually a lot fewer in winter, and they spread them out, so even (the interns) don't know how many of them are in there."

Levinson said she stayed in the same dorm several years ago, when she was an intern. "If it had happened to me, I'd be 3,000 miles from home, and (have) less than $1,000 in my bank account," she said. "I wouldn't want it to happen to me, and we're going to fix it.

Blood drive canceled

The local blood bank is being left high and dry by the shutdown. A NASA Ames blood drive benefiting the Stanford Blood Center set for Oct. 2 was canceled when more than 1,000 NASA Ames employees were furloughed, said spokesperson Deanna Bolio. The Stanford Blood Center is urgently in need of O-negative blood, and the shutdown of the federal government is affecting the center's ability to meet that demand, she said. The drive was expected to collect 75 units of whole blood.

"It's unfortunate that the government shutdown is impacting the local blood supply," said Bolio. "NASA Ames employees have been tremendously supportive of the blood center over the last 27 years, having donated thousands of units to help patients in the community."

NASA Ames hosts five blood drives each year, she said. Anyone interested in donating at Stanford's Mountain View, Palo Alto or Menlo Park locations can get information at bloodcenter.stanford.edu.

USGS

The USGS stated in a contingency plan that the majority of its operations would be shut down in the event of a lapse in appropriations, with the exception of those functions to protect life and property.

USGS spokesman Justin Pressfield said that nearly all of the more than 8,600 full-time USGS employees would be furloughed beginning Tuesday at 12 p.m. Only 43 employees nationwide, most of whom are in the "hazard mission" area dealing with earthquakes, volcanoes and floods, will not be furloughed, including three at the Menlo Park office.

Pressfield said that in the event of a seismic event, seismologists "in the bullpen" can be activated on an as-needed basis. Only the USGS websites for earthquakes and water will remain open, he said. The rest will be shut down because they cannot be updated and maintained on a timely basis.

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will remain open for the time being but only because it's being supported by a reserve of carryover funds from 2013, said SLAC spokesman Andy Freeberg. Freeberg said there's no word on how long those funds will hold out.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo said her offices in Palo Alto and D.C. will remain open.

"My consistent vote throughout this ordeal has been to keep the government functioning," she said in a statement. "A shutdown costs taxpayers approximately $150 million a day and has many consequences. The people of our country deserve far better than the spectacle of Congress lurching from one manufactured fiscal crisis to another."

Eshoo also provided a brief primer on the effects of the government shutdown.

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