The prospect of major layoffs at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and other federally funded institutions was raised Thursday by California Democrats in response to a budget-slashing Republican proposal under discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among eight members of Congress participating in a conference call with reporters to decry "a whole lot of craziness" in a GOP-proposed continuing resolution that would spark immediate cuts to federal programs.
Admitting the proposal would never clear the Democrat-controlled Senate or the desk of President Barack Obama, the lawmakers nonetheless said they wanted constituents to know about a "volatile situation" in Congress sparked by "a substantial number of new members who have fire in their eyes."
An 18 percent cut to SLAC's funder, the Department of Energy's Science Office, is one element of the proposal.
The plan also contains a 29 percent cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, cuts to the Pell Grant program for college students, major cuts to community health clinics serving low-income people, and complete elimination of funding for federal family planning grants and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Democrats said.
A "shut-down of most (SLAC) operating facilities" would be the result of an 18 percent cut, according to a document supplied by the California Democrats.
"Depending upon the out year budgets, we would either lay off starting June 1 (allowing for required 60-day notification period) or furlough without pay starting April 1, approximately 750 to 1,000 staff at the laboratory," the document said.
"This would leave approximately 750 to 500 staff still on payroll to manage the site in 'warm standby mode,' an insufficient number to operate the major facilities."
SLAC Director of Communications Farnaz Khadem said the proposed 18 percent cut effectively would be a 36 percent budget cut to SLAC since it would come at mid-year after six months of spending at the regular level.
"We want to continue to talk to lawmakers and make sure they understand both the negative impact of these kinds of cuts on communities and on the national labs and the kinds of jobs we're talking about," Khadem said.
"We also want to make sure they understand the positive impact the research that goes on at these labs has, and the effect on American competitiveness if these labs were to close down for some period of time."
In a letter supplied by Eshoo's office, Stanford University Dean of Research Ann Arvin joined deans of other California research institutions in urging Congress to "preserve important funding for education and research."
Noting that California institutions receive 10 percent -- or more than $3.15 billion -- of all funding from the National Institutes of Health as well as more than $1 billion a year from the National Science Foundation, the deans said major cuts to those agencies would threaten research that drives "cutting-edge discoveries that power our innovation economy.
"Large scale cuts to our science infrastructure will set us far back at a time when competing economies are employing the American model and increasing investment," the deans' letter stated.
Arvin co-signed the letter with research deans from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the University of Southern California.
"We know hard decisions have to be made to reduce our debt and deficit," Eshoo said.
"But cuts today shouldn't impair our competitiveness tomorrow.
"This resolution sacrifices critical investments in order to hit an arbitrary number. It will cost thousands of jobs, and it will gut research and development programs at a time when other nations are investing heavily and rapidly."