Uncertainty goes on at Los Alamos lab

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Lab: McMillan gives progress report

By John Severance

Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan kept coming back to one word when describing the year that was to a group of community leaders at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino Tuesday.


McMillan said the lab finished 2012 with $383 million less in funding than 2011. The 2011 reductions include $183 million for operations and maintenance and $200 million for construction.

In addition, McMillan said the lab finished 2012 with 1,295 fewer employees than in the previous year.

“We are now at our lowest numbers since 2001,” McMillan said in reference to headcount at the lab.

Of the 1,295 employees that left the lab, 557 departed under the voluntary separation program in the spring. McMillan said other the other numbers could be attributed to contactor cuts, normal attrition and slightly fewer students.

In total, there are 10,400 employees at the lab with 7,000 of them classified as regular LANS employees.

McMillan said procurements are down by close to $200 million from FY 11. In September of last year, the lab racked up $894 million in procurements compared to $696 million this year.

“2012 was very challenging for us financially,” McMillan said.

But he said the efforts to control costs have been successful.

“The voluntary separation program accomplished its goal,” McMillan said. “Senior management council approved hires and purchases greater than $100,000. And in spite of these challenges, we completed our mission for the nation.”

So what does the future hold?

“More uncertainty,” McMillan said.

The lab is working on a continuing resolution that was passed by Congress in September and that will run until March.
Under the continuing resolution, the lab will operate on a $2.1 billion budget compared to $2.2 billion this past year.

“Going into 2013, we expect to continue to operate at the same levels,” McMillan said. “Talking to people in Washington, I really don’t expect sequestration to happen. If we can get a budget agreement, we should stay where we are at.”

If there is not an agreement in Washington, sequestration will take place.

Sequestration will be triggered by the failure of Congress and the administration to agree on measures to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 Automatic cuts will then be implemented and that would not be good for the lab.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, federal funding for nuclear arms operations in New Mexico could face a $288 million cut.

Funding in the state for nuclear arms activities at the Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories would fall by 9.4 percent under sequestration if the resultant reductions are spread equally to all atomic stockpile work across the country, according to data supplied to legislators by the White House Management and Budget Office in its report earlier this year.

Labs also would receive $57 million less for activities aimed at averting the spread of weapon-sensitive materials and technology, the newspaper reported in September.

Meanwhile, McMillan is banking on a bet that sequestration can be averted.

The lab director also talked about some of the accomplishments in the past year.
• Lab equipment on the Mars Curiosity rover is delivering excellent data, he said.
• McMillan credited the team responsible for coming up with a world-record magnet.
• And McMillan also gave credit to the collaboration with New Mexico universities and the new biology lab which will study algal biofuels as well as the PRObE supercomputing center which will use decommissioned Los Alamos computers to help design the next generation of supercomputers.
• McMillan said the lab is exceeding its goal of shipping TRU waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.
• And the lab director said the LANS Board has approved Community Commitment Plan 2.0, which means more than $3 million per year will be dedicated to education and economic development charitable giving.