The latest victim of the federal government shutdown is a crucial player in the space and intelligence world, the Aerospace Corporation, which has had to cut back the work of 60 percent of its 3,500 employees.
“The Aerospace Corporation started implementing a partial work shutdown on Oct. 3, after the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center directed Aerospace to stop work immediately on all but excepted mission-critical tasks,” the federally-funded entity said in a statement. The corporation is one of the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (fondly known as FFRDCs), and it supplies the Air Force’s space and intelligence programs and agencies with many of the world’s most experienced and respected experts in their fields.
Among the programs affected by the stop work order are GPS 3, the next generation GPSD satellites, the next generation weather satellites and most of the corporation’s internal research and development work, a spokesman told me.
Not all of the 2,000 employees affected will be furloughed. Some Aerospace Corp. personnel will have to stop work altogether, but as technical specialists, many of them support multiple programs at once, some of which may be shut down while others continue. The Aerospace Corp. provides crucial support work to some things that the Air Force has decided are “mission-critical tasks” that include “launch operations and support, resolution of on-orbit anomalies, and execution of ongoing satellite flight operations.” So that means employees who work on rocket launches, track the orbits of satellites, and help fly and operate satellites won’t be touched.
The biggest effects on the defense and intelligence industries are likely to be slower awards of contracts, because the corporation often serves as an honest broker in evaluating program bids, a senior industry source told me. Requests for Proposals (RFPs) may well come out more slowly because the corporation often vets them for technical issues.
The intelligence community is likely to be affected as well by those delays, although the spokesman would not discuss that issue. The corporation provides support to a wide array of intelligence programs and agencies. With the large number of intelligence civilians who have been furloughed — roughly 70 percent, including support staff and intelligence analysts — a former senior intelligence official said, programs the corporation works on are almost certainly affected. “While this is an SMC announcement and response, I wouldn’t assume that all black work continues. As you know, DNI (James) Clapper has said that 70% of the IC is furloughed. This surely flows to contractors,” the former official wrote in an email.
It’s important to bear in mind that the number of Aerospace Corporation workers affected may shrink, a veteran space industry executive told me in an email, because the Pentagon has decided civilian defense employees can return to work. Lockheed lowered the number of its employees furloughed from 3,000 to 2,400 after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the decision.