“When does Colorado get a break?” asked Jacque Ganger, whose children were trapped on a school bus stuck in a ditch for four hours during September's catastrophic floods.
Last week, Ganger had to shift her focus from the flooding to the federal government shutdown, which put her and many people she knows at the Interior Department out of work. “It felt like a one-two punch,” she said.
The impact is even more bruising because of the numbers: the federal government is Colorado’s largest employer with 40,864 in the workforce, from National Park Service employees who herd elk and manage moose in the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park to physicist David J. Wineland with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), who won the 2012 Nobel Prize for research on quantum systems that contributed to the development of superfast computing.
Even if Stockholm’s prize committee found Wineland’s work groundbreaking, he was deemed expendable by the government last week.
“On the organization charts I’m just another worker, another non-essential,” said Wineland, sighing, during an interview from his home in Boulder.
With the largest concentration of federal agencies outside of the Washington area, the Denver Federal Center houses 28 agencies in 44 buildings, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Ice Core Laboratory and a large branch of the National Archives.
While Colorado’s 11,959 Defense Department employees were called back to work this week, nearly 28,905 federal workers are employed in dozens of other agencies. And a vast majority of them remain furloughed.
“The hits just keep on coming,” said Josh Hadler, 45, whose home was flooded in Lyons, the hardest-hit area. The town is now uninhabitable and still does not have water, gas, power or sewer. Now he’s been furloughed from his job as a government physicist. His wife has also lost her job at an assisted living center because it was flooded. They are staying with family.
Scientific studies on hold
At his lab in Boulder, Wineland won the Nobel Prize jointly with Serge Haroche of France for research paving the way for super-computers that run massive amounts of calculations in parallel. His work, for instance, could potentially help the way medical drugs are synthesized.
“My experiments are completely stopped. It’s very challenging to stay ahead with competitive research when this happens; it just slows the research down,” said Wineland, a soft-spoken man with a white walrus mustache. “No one in Colorado, or the country, needed this furlough on top of everything else.”
Government scientists have been some of the hardest hit, and about 90 percent of them are furloughed.