Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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

UPDATE: December 31, 2018

It is amazing how little has changed since I wrote my 2013 blog post about being a furloughed NASA employee (see below).  I am again furloughed because a different president and Congress cannot agree on a budget.  I fear this shutdown/furlough will last much longer than any other I've experienced due to the polarizing nature of the core issue being debated.  It is important to note that funding for NASA (and many of the other parts of the government affected) have absolutely NOTHING to do with the core issue.

Projects will be delayed, hardware delivery deadlines missed, and launch dates may slip.



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.


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.

Les Johnson
Linked In - http://www.linkedin.com/in/lesjohnson1
Personal Website - www.lesjohnsonauthor.com


  1. Feel for you buddy. That must make you feel like a pawn in someones crazy game. Telling you that you can't volunteer??? Seems insane. But it will be someones game plan as they hold the country to ransom.
    "See look how bad it got when we did this last time? Do you want this again???..."
    Makes me feel sick inside to think there are people out there that stop people enjoying their lives and helping others......just so they can make a point.

    Perhaps someone should send them a letter telling them to shut-up and not permitting them to speak while they are not paid.
    Would seem fair.

  2. Not to worry. NASA folks are amazing. You won't lose your inspiration ... even while waiting to return to work.

    Best to you,

    Karen Gearhart

  3. I don't think that government should be allowed to tell us what to do with our time. Congress obviously doesn't have the best time managment skills.

    If you want to volunteer doing something you love, then you should be allowed to.

    If the thing you love happens to be your job, then that's wonderful.

    Loving what you do should be appreciated, not regulated.

    1. Congress should not have imposed this requirement on NASA employees in the first place.

  4. Probably because they feel it's possible that someone later could use legal action against the NASA to try to get paid for those hours.

    Time to work on your own projects.

    1. Admire your resolve and there are many like you I know - if we paid attention to the constant trivia of politics our lives would mostly be a waste of time!

  5. I admire your passion. Very few people are lucky enough to love the work they do that much, and to have that pulled away from you must be terrible.

    Keep hope alive. We'd all love to see you back at work sooner rather than later, too.

  6. Serious question: What's stopping a non-employee from volunteering? Say one were given a set of protocols to run, wouldn't these directed technicians be able to keep the science on track? I assume there's *some way* to make sure these volunteers had accurate information.

  7. There's a reason why most American's still believe in NASA and support a government space program. And I guess you're part of that reason!

    Thank you for you service to our country!


  8. Rather than calling this a "federal government shutdown," I have taken to calling it a "lockout" - primarily for the very reasons you describe in your post.

  9. I'm happy for you that your job is such a challenging and intriguing place to work that you have no compunctions about working off the clock. I'm sorry, however, (above and beyond the furlough) that you have to put up with this kind of mind-shatteringly stupid bureaucratic camel-ejecta. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you get back to your regular schedule soon.

  10. Most people in positions with any sort of responsibility would probably continue working during their furlough. The work doesn't go away just because the government says you can't do it; when you come back, those projects and tasks will still be your responsibility.

  11. Ran into a woman this morning at the local coffeehouse. She works for Social Security, is not getting paid and still has to report to work. There was a vague threat made that if people started calling off during this debacle, they might not have a job to return to. "I'm doing it for the clients," she told me. "That's why I'm still going in." I feel for you, Mr. Johnson. I truly do.

  12. I also work for a federal research laboratory, doing energy conservation work with huge benefits for the nation and the earth. I haven't been furloughed yet, but as our current project monies run out, more and more of us will be. I was moved by your blog entry, and also feel wonderful, as you do, working with a dedicated group doing critically important work to protect and improve our environment. I too am regularly surprised when I write a late night email and get a response from my colleagues within minutes. The games being played in Washington are shameful and I hope everyone expresses their points of view however they can, including at the voting booth. Thumbs up to you and your colleagues.

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