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Government shutdown ‘frightening’ for NM contractors

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The government shutdown taking hold throughout New Mexico is becoming “frightening” for contractors in the state, some of whom have started laying off employees and reducing work schedules.

They are also warning their workers that a resolution to the ongoing Washington impasse might not be on the horizon any time soon.

“We’re on reduced schedule, and we’re trying to make every last nickel and dime last,” said Brenda Cordova-Busick, president and owner of ADC LTD NM. “It’s rather frightening. The noose is really getting tight.”

The longest shutdown in history has left nine of the 15 major federal agencies without funding since Dec. 22, throwing government workers into furlough status, cutting pay to contractors and canceling previously scheduled projects.

Brenda Cordova-Busick, president and owner of ADC LTD NM, says she has gone to reduced work schedules for her employees as she struggles to deal with the continuing government shutdown. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ADC, which provides security and conducts background checks for a variety of government agencies, has 350 employees in Albuquerque but it supports more than 2,600 workers nationwide, Cordova-Busick said.

The company has already reduced work hours and is now “pulling all the numbers and crunching” to see if it has to let employees go, she said.

She noted that while federal employees will be compensated for lost paychecks once the shutdown ends, contractors “will absolutely not get back pay.”

No one is keeping track of the exact number of contractors affected, but government work is big business in New Mexico. The good news is that most of the $8.2 million awarded by the federal government in the state is for work at the national laboratories.

The Department of Energy has received funding through the end of this fiscal year, meaning the labs are continuing work as normal. Also funded is the Department of Defense, so operations at Kirtland and the state’s other Air Force bases also won’t be affected.

Still, thousands of federal contractors in the state have been “left in limbo” because of the “reckless shutdown,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a news release. He and New Mexico’s other senator, Tom Udall, have introduced legislation to secure back pay for low-wage federal government contractors, such as janitors and food-service workers.

Closure of the U.S. Interior and Agriculture departments has meant Monica Jojola, owner of Montech Inc., had to lay off about 10 full- and part-time workers from her 50-person staff.

Jojola said she has learned to diversify the work her small Albuquerque company does providing government support services because of past uncertainty about government funding.

But in past shutdowns, she said, “you conclude work on Friday and hope everyone’s back at work on Tuesday morning. And sure enough, everyone is back to work on Tuesday. But in this case, it’s very challenging.”

Michelle Justice, president and owner of Personnel Security Consultants, is down to five employees – half of her small workforce – and has no plans to replace them.

Her Albuquerque company, which conducts employment background investigations and trains federal agencies to do their own, has had three scheduled training sessions canceled – one for the Department of Justice and two for the Indian Police Academy in Artesia.

It’s a “double impact,” not only in lost revenue for her company, but in delays in getting needed officers qualified for work, she said.

“That means all of those folks are not getting trained, and they’re not getting new Indian Country officers in the field, which is desperately needed,” Justice said.

Cordova-Busick predicted the local economy will start seeing the effects of federal contract employees cutting back on spending.

“People are hunkering down,” she said, adding that her employees are apprehensive because “they know their counterparts were furloughed four weeks ago.”

“We’re all struggling. We’re buckling down and hoping they can get this squared away.”

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