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JPL faces $50-million budget cut; more layoffs called unlikely

A $50-million budget cut for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge likely won't be enough to spur another round of mass layoffs, a legislative affairs official for the agency said.

Despite massive federal deficits that have put support for space exploration and other science programs in jeopardy, JPL's budget will remain relatively stable at $1.5 billion for the coming year.

Even with the $50-million hit, the venerable laboratory will likely be able to avoid “another large change in workforce,” Richard O'Toole, manager of legislative affairs, told the Glendale News-Press.

Drops in funding prompted layoffs of 247 JPL employees in February and March, many of them in administrative support positions. Nearly 60 other workers retired earlier this year and have not been replaced, reducing the total number of lab employees to 5,153, according to spokeswoman Veronica McGregor.

Given the budget constraints in Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), long a proponent of JPL, said the slight funding reduction was the best his colleagues could do.

“JPL is feeling the pain, but other agencies have been hit a lot harder,” said Schiff, who last month helped broker a bipartisan deal to reconcile proposed science budgets in the Senate and House of Representatives.

NASA's 2012 budget is $17.8 billion, about $680 million less than last year. But a bill passed earlier by the Republican-controlled House would have cut NASA funding to $16.8 billion.

Budgets for 2012 retroactively include expenses since Oct. 1, the start of NASA's fiscal year.

--Joe Piasecki, Times Community News

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