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Les JohnsonOctober 3, 2013

I cannot volunteer my time to work on NASA business during the furlough

This article originally appeared on October 2, 2013 on the author's personal blog and is reposted with his permission.


Today I received my furlough notice from NASA. Since my job isn’t considered “excepted,” in other words, since no one will be injured or die if I don’t report for work, then I am to remain at home until recalled to work after the Congress passes and the President signs some sort of budget or continuing resolution to keep the government running. The fact that the government has shut down all non-essential operations should come as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock these last several days.

What may come as a surprise to many is the following statement from the letter I received informing me of what I can and cannot do during the furlough: “During the furlough, you will be in a nonpay, nonduty status. During this time, you will not be permitted to serve NASA as an unpaid volunteer.”

How many federal agencies, for that matter, how many employers have to tell their employees “I’m sending you home without pay for an indefinite period of time and you are strictly prohibited from doing any work for the company/organization on your own time and without compensation?” I dare say there are not very many people out there who would take forced, unpaid days off and continue to work for the company that sent them home. Except at NASA. And, yes, if it weren’t so explicitly stated, I would be one who would continue to work on my NASA projects at home, on my own time, and without compensation. I am sure I wouldn’t be alone.

In a normal work week, I receive 1/3 of my average daily work-related emails after 5:00 pm. Some of them are time stamped after 11:00 pm. I find that the people I work with routinely work at home, on their own time, as a general rule of thumb. I’m not just talking about the rushed deadline where everyone pitches in to make it happen. I’m referring to the day-to-day business of NASA.

Did you know that NASA has routinely been named THE best place to work in government by its own employees for at least the last two years? How many companies where the employees routinely work uncompensated overtime just to get the job done will then turn around and rate their company as a great place to work? Not many. Except at NASA.

Why?

Speaking only for myself, I’ll tell you why I think that’s the case. We’re working on challenging projects with the goals of advancing our understanding of the universe around us, expanding humanity beyond the Earth so as to ensure the eventual survival of the species, and making the Earth a better place to live for all who inhabit it. Yes, these are lofty goals and bold assertions. They are what motivate me and have inspired me since I was a child. We believe we’re making a difference in the world and we love doing it.

Are there NASA employees who are just punching the clock? Yes. But they are in the minority. Most of us don’t dread Mondays. Most of us would much rather be working than furloughed and I, for one, would keep working on some of my projects during the furlough if I were allowed to do so.

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Les Johnson
Les Johnson

Deputy Manager, Advanced Concepts Office for NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center
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