March 1, 2024

JPL Workforce Update

JPL Statement issued February 6, 2024:

After exhausting all other measures to adjust to a lower NASA budget, and in the absence of a Congressional appropriation for fiscal year 2024, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce JPL’s workforce through layoffs. . The JPL team has been informed that the workforce reduction will affect approximately 530 of our colleagues, an impact of approximately 8%, as well as approximately 40 additional members of our contract workforce. The impacts will occur in the technical and support areas of the Laboratory. These are painful but necessary adjustments that will allow us to meet our budget allocation while continuing our important work for NASA and our nation.

The following is the text of a memo sent today by JPL Director Laurie Leshin to employees.

Dear colleagues,

Today I’m writing to share some difficult news. While we do not yet have an appropriation for FY 2024 or final say from Congress on the Mars Sample Return (MSR) budget allocation, we are now in a position where we must take significant additional steps to reduce our expenditures, which will result in layoffs of JPL employees and an additional release of contractors. These cuts are among the biggest challenges we have had to make, even as we have sought to reduce our expenses in recent months.

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

I am writing to share as much detail and clarity as possible about our actions, including reviewing the factors that led to this decision and our next steps. First, how we got here. Without an approved federal budget, including the final allocation for MSR funding levels for fiscal year 2024, NASA previously directed JPL to plan for an MSR budget of $300 million. This is consistent with the lower bound of Congressional profit margins from the NASA budget and a 63% reduction from the FY23 level. In response to this guidance, and in an effort to protect our workforce, we have implemented a hiring freeze, reduced MSR contracts, and implemented cuts to burden budgets across the Laboratory. Earlier this month, we further reduced spending by releasing some of our valued on-site contractors.

Unfortunately, these actions alone are not enough to get us through the remainder of the fiscal year. Therefore, 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 ourselves against even deeper cuts in the future, should we have to wait.

To adjust to the much lower MSR budget levels that NASA directs us to, we must reduce our workforce in the technical and support areas of the Laboratory, and across different organizations. We must streamline our operations while maintaining a level of specialization, creativity, technical agility and innovation that will allow us to continue to perform vital work and fulfill our current missions, including MSR. As I’ve 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 Laboratory.

I’d like to share some details about what to expect. Our desire in this process is for impacted employees to quickly reach the point where they will receive personalized attention during this transition. In an effort to bring clarity to everyone as quickly as possible, 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 quickly notifying everyone, whether affected or not. This way, we can quickly focus on providing personalized support opportunities to our affected colleagues, including scheduling dedicated time to discuss their benefits and various 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 7th, so everyone can be in a safe and comfortable environment on a stressful day. Most people 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 via email shortly. If you do not receive an email with instructions to be at the Lab, plan to work remotely regardless of the status of your telework agreement. Additionally, and to ensure we have everyone’s accurate contact information, I also ask everyone to review and update their personal email and phone number in Workday today.
  2. Tomorrow, leadership (primarily at the Division and Board level) will hold brief mandatory virtual workforce update meetings with their JPL teams. Each of you will be invited to one of them. Pay attention to invitations to online meetings and ensure your presence. Meeting times vary depending on the organization, but everything will happen tomorrow. In these meetings, your managers will reiterate some of the details I’m sharing here, as well as provide some tips about the impact of the layoff on that organization. Even organizations that do not have affected employees will come together to ensure we are all hearing the same information. Importantly, we will not share any details about any individual employees affected.
  3. Following the virtual workforce update meeting, all employees invited to the meeting will receive an email notifying them whether they are being impacted by the layoff or not. We encourage affected employees to forward this email to their personal email accounts immediately, as NASA requires that access to JPL systems be turned off shortly after notification.
  4. If your role is impacted, you will receive personalized information electronically and can schedule discussions with trained professionals to review information about your benefits and the transitional support options available to you. All affected employees will continue to receive their base salary and benefits during the 60-day notice period, although they will not be at the Laboratory or required to work during this period, unless specific transitional information is requested. If eligible, affected employees will be offered a severance package as outlined in Caltech’s severance policy, transitional benefits including placement services, and other information about benefits resources.
  5. If you are not an affected employee, after the virtual workforce update meeting, you will receive an email informing you that you will not be affected by the workforce reduction. There will also be resources available to you. As we move forward, I ask your leaders and managers to meet with you and your teams to answer your questions and concerns as best they can, to create a space where our teams can support each other and strengthen access to resources additional. We will also schedule a General Assembly soon to share more information about our path forward and provide 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. His talents leave a lasting mark on JPL. You will always be part of our history and have made a positive difference here.

This is by far the most difficult action I have had to take since becoming Director of JPL, and I know I join all of you in wishing this would not be necessary. We will always value our colleagues leaving the Lab and will miss them as we move forward. For those who continue on the JPL journey, we will overcome this difficult time and continue to advance our essential missions, research and technology work for NASA and the nation.

Thank you for your mutual support at this challenging time.


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