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Federal contractors idle amid shutdown

Posted October 11, 2013

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— As the government shutdown continues, the impact to area companies that work with and for the federal government only worsens.

SciMetrika, which works on public health projects for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, has sent two-thirds of its employees home as it waits for Congress to resolve the budget impasse.

"This is the impact of the shutdown," Susan Acker-Walsh, SciMetrika's chief operating officer, said Friday as she walked the darkened halls of the company's Durham office. "The folks in the government that are furloughed are the folks we would be interacting with."

An estimated 500,000 government workers were furloughed Oct. 1 as "non-essential" programs were shut down when the new federal fiscal year started without a budget.

For about half of its 50 federal contracts, SciMetrika received a notification directing the company to stop work immediately.

"That has a gigantic impact on the company but more importantly on our people," Acker-Walsh said. "Folks need to understand this is a much broader issue, and it affects all aspects of the community."

The company has about 120 employees split between its Durham and Atlanta offices. Those not working are burning through their vacation time to keep earning paychecks. SciMetrika officials said they would advance people up to a week of 2014 vacation time, if needed, but once that runs out, they're on leave with no pay.

SciMetrika logo on building Contract workers burn through vacation time during shutdown

"We've had some requests this week – the first requests – for people to say, 'I'd like to file for unemployment insurance,'" she said.

The House passed a bill that would give furloughed government workers back pay once the shutdown is over, but at this point, it wouldn't apply to contract workers. The Senate hasn't voted on the bill yet.

"This is certainly not just a (Washington) D.C. issue," said Aaron Chatterji, an associate professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. "I think what started off in the first week as mostly political dysfunction will have a real economic impact as we go forward."

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