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Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan addressed the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities last Friday, giving an overview of the state of the laboratory.
The biggest piece of news was that LANL has just completed a new strategic plan. McMillan spelled out three themes underlying the plan.
“These are themes that for me have been part of my thinking about the laboratory since I took on the leadership. And today our plan lays out these themes into ideas, into strategies, into mission, vision, goals,” McMillan said.
“First, we have to deliver on our commitments while simultaneously insuring the capabilities that the nation will need, and for an uncertain future.
“The first part of that I think is self-evident. If we aren’t able to deliver on our commitments today, there’s simply not going to be a future to talk about.
“The second part, though, is equally important. When I think about the laboratory, I feel responsibility for the laboratory at two phases in its life. One is for, the laboratory of today. The other is the laboratory 20 years from now.
“I may not be around to see that laboratory, but I feel equal responsibility for that laboratory. Because the people we hire today, the facilities we put in place today, the processes we put in place today are all going to shape that laboratory of the future.”
According to McMillan, the strategic plan’s other two themes —good people and a seamless operation — insure the accomplishment of the first goal.
“This laboratory has got to be one of the best places in the world to work, because otherwise we won’t have the class of people it takes to do number one,” McMillan said, noting that the lab has to compete with powerhouses such as Google and Apple for talent.
McMillan cited a recent innovation−creating lab-specific apps for such things as travel and facilities work−to illustrate how LANL is working toward a “seamless” operation. He began with an anecdote about a conversation with the IT staff.
“I said, when I started my career 30 years ago, I got to work on a 7600, and I wanted my computer at home to be as good as my computer at work. Today I wish that my computer at work were as good as my computer at home,” McMillan said.
That sparked a conversation about how to create cell phone apps specific to the lab’s needs.
“You know what? Just after Christmas they said, Charlie, we want to show you the 12 apps of Christmas,” McMillan said. “That’s the kind of thinking I mean when I talk about a place that just works.”
McMillan highlighted ways in which LANL’s work is being recognized. He cited comments made by Lieutenant General Frank G. Klotz, newly appointed under secretary for nuclear security and administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), during an employee meeting.
“I was very proud that when the general spoke about the missions of the department and gave examples, the three examples he gave were all examples in which Los Alamos National Laboratory is either a leading contributor or a unique contributor to the missions of the NNSA,” McMillan said.
“In addition, when he talked about talent, the only organization he mentioned was Los Alamos.”
McMillan also recounted Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz response to the question, “what are the messages of the department?”
“And without thinking about it for a second, the secretary said, ‘DOE is a powerhouse of science and technology for the nation.
“‘Point number two, national labs are the principal agents for execution of that mission of national importance.
“’Third, we do this in public service. That’s who we are.’
“So I am very much pleased by the alignment between the secretary’s missions and how he sees our laboratory contributing,” McMillan said.
McMillan gave an update on LANL’s financial situation The director is projecting a $2.1 billion budget for FY2014, up approximately $16 million from the previous year.
“Our economic indicators are stable,” McMillan said. “So that’s good news from my perspective. I’d much rather be managing a laboratory with a budget that’s stable or slightly up than managing a laboratory where the budget is circling down."
The director also gave an update on the 3706 campaign to clean up transuranic (TRU) waste at Technical Area 63. The radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant delayed 120 shipments. Twenty-three of those have been shipped to an alternate site, and the lab is determining the best location for the remaining shipments.
McMillan touted several other projects, including one in conjunction with the New Mexico Environmental Department to reclaim brackish water for nonpotable uses, another study charting the impact of climate change on tree mortality, the lab’s venture capital investment in a new drone designed to stay in the air two years and LANL’s commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education.
McMillan stressed STEM’s importance for the state’s national laboratories and high tech businesses, noting that 41 percent of the laboratory’s work force was born in New Mexico.
“Every one of those organizations depends a well educated, technically savvy workforce,” McMillan said.”So this is the kind of thing the laboratory is proud to be part of. I know we’re making a difference here in Northern New Mexico, and I’m proud to be part of a group of executives who are thinking about how we do this not just in one part of the state but across the state.”
DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franco updated the coalition on the recent incidents at the WIPP facility. His report echoed information previously released to the press and reported in the Los Alamos Monitor.
Pueblo of Jemez Governor Joshua Madalena also announced the pueblo’s intent to join the coalition.
“As a tribal entity, being a part of this coalition really adds onto the coalition because we can deal with Washington on a trust responsibility level and also as a government to government, more of a presidential to presidential government relationship,” Madalena said.