The end of the government shutdown last week brought relief to Oak Ridge, especially at the Y-12 National Security Complex, where up to about 3,600 workers were expected to be furloughed starting last Thursday unless a deal was reached.
Chuck Spencer, general manager of B&W Y-12, which manages and operates Y-12, told workers on Thursday that a shutdown to minimum staffing had been averted and the furloughs would no longer be necessary. There had been reports that only about 900 workers might have remained starting today.
Spencer said the nuclear weapons plant, which started an orderly shutdown two weeks ago on Monday, Oct. 7, will begin planning to resume normal operations.
Normal operations resumed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Thursday, Director Thom Mason said in a message to staff. ORNL had enough funding to continue operating through October and into November, but officials had started preparing for a possible temporary shutdown and unpaid furloughs in case the shutdown continued.
Oak Ridge residents remained frustrated even after Congress and the White House reached a last-minute, short-term spending agreement late Wednesday night that averted the shutdowns and furloughs, just hours before a deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and after some local businesses had already reported that the shutdown had affected their operations.
“I am just kind of fed up,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said. “I think most Americans are.”
The government had partially shut down on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, after Congress failed to pass a spending bill. Republicans had sought to delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” and repeal a medical device tax as part of a spending package. However, Democrats and President Barack Obama wanted a “clean” spending bill that made no changes to the controversial health care law.
The deal approved in Congress on Wednesday night and signed by Obama early Thursday morning keeps the government open through Jan. 15 and raises the federal government’s debt ceiling through Feb. 7. It makes no major changes to the health care law, but some Republicans have suggested they could continue the fight. That raises the prospect that the fiscal feud, which created economic concerns around the world, could be repeated again in just a few months.
“I would hope they would figure out a way not to do this every three to four months,” Beehan said. “Let’s not do this again. You really are affecting people’s lives.”
Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Tennessee’s two Republican senators, voted for Wednesday’s agreement, and so did the state’s two Democratic representatives. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s seven Republican representatives—including East Tennessee congressmen Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, and John J. Duncan Jr.—voted against it.
In Jackson Square, diners at Dean’s Restaurant and Bakery had been warning co-owners Dean Russell and Lynn Randolph that they might not be able to eat any more of the restaurant’s popular “Southern comfort” food and fried pies if they lost their jobs. On Wednesday, Russell put up a sign that tells members of Congress that they are not welcome inside. It’s received national attention, including a mention in the New York Times.
“We put the sign up over frustration about the shutdown,” Randolph said Friday.
The sign will stay up “until we are sure that Congress is going to do the right thing for Americans,” Randolph said. It applies to members of both parties, she said.
If a member of Congress is willing to work for a day—”see what an average worker goes through”—then they can sit down to enjoy a meal, Randolph said.
The annual budget for federal programs in Oak Ridge is more than $3 billion, and the spending has a huge impact on small businesses that provide goods and services to U.S. Department of Energy operations.
One of those businesses, government contractor Information International Associates, or IIa, had 10 employees that had been given “stop work” orders, primarily by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, because of the shutdown, Chief Operating Officer Kelly Callison said in an interview earlier this month. DOE was scheduled to give more information to local contractors about its plans on a company-by-company basis last week, Callison said.
But the congressional agreement reached last week would appear to avoid additional shutdowns and furloughs in Oak Ridge and at other federal contractors and facilities across the country, including at other national labs such as Los Alamos, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley.
Spencer said operations will resume at Y-12 “in a disciplined and methodical manner, with safety and security being our top priorities. This will take some time to accomplish, and you will be receiving additional information about how this effort directly affects you from your organization.”
The plant continues to face budget challenges, Spencer said, and Y-12 must continue to minimize discretionary spending, and restrict hiring and travel.
“We will also be closely analyzing the budget guidance we receive and our ability to move money between control points in order to keep operations moving efficiently,” Spencer said. “We will seek to do this with minimal disruption to you and will keep you informed as we move forward.”