Anastasio gives upbeat update

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By Jennifer Garcia

In the past couple of years, many businesses have scaled back their budgets in an effort to cut costs and save money. For a lot of employees, layoffs have been a grim byproduct of a weak economy.

Despite the nation’s problems, however, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio remains optimistic about the lab’s future. During Tuesday night’s county council meeting Anastasio gave councilors a general briefing on the lab.

Anastasio spoke about the recent visit by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He said it was a whirlwind visit and an exciting time.

“Scientists got to talk to him about a spectrum of projects going on at the lab,” Anastasio said. In addition, he mentioned that Chu gave a talk at Sandia National Laboratory, as well; a talk he described as exciting and uplifting.

Anastasio said that the 2009 budget for the lab is pretty much what they expected. He mentioned the areas of energy and science are expected to grow by about 20 percent this year.

“We’re working to tighten up the internal process to be more efficient,” he commented. “I can’t tell you much about FY ’10. The budget comes out on Thursday.”

He did, however say he’s optimistic that the budget will come out well.

He also mentioned the building leases the lab has throughout town. He said every lease is looked at on a case-by-case basis, but assured councilors the lab has no plans to change their strategy as far as leases are concerned.

Thanks to the Obama administration, the lab will receive $212 million in stimulus money for environmental cleanup. The money will be used to clean up TA-21.

“The money will allow us to start the project and bring it to completion,” Anastasio said.

However, he also said there’s a lot of challenges that lie ahead, as well, particularly in meeting the requirements for obtaining the funds.

“We’re working through all those details. I expect the work will mirror the way we’ve been doing clean up work as we go,” he said.

He anticipates that the clean up work will be subcontracted through the lab.

Opportunities for the future, according to Anastasio, include the science complex. He said 1,400 scientists will move into the new office space within the complex.

“We’re well down the path on that process. We did an RFP, got bids and brought them forward for the science complex. We have support from the site office and NNSA. We’re getting really close. I can almost taste it,” he said. “This is another example of the lab’s priorities.”

As a part of building a good relationship with community leaders, Anastasio said regular breakfasts are held, during which tours of the lab are given. He said the gatherings are a good way to gauge community leaders’ reactions.

He also spoke proudly of the work the lab has done amidst the swine flu outbreak.

“The lab’s had a really influential role in the government’s taking a look at how the swine flu has spread. That’s another opportunity for growth,” he said.

In an effort to be the first to address internal problems, Anastasio said that he has been trying to get the word out to the public first, so that people hear the lab’s side of the story, rather than read about an event second hand.

Following Anastasio’s presentation, councilors asked him a few questions.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle asked him whether there would be job cuts at the lab.

“We don’t have a good sense yet. As we continue to change missions, there’s a certain level of need to get a different skill mix,” he answered. He also said that attrition has been used to control the work force so far.

Councilor Ralph Phelps wanted to know if the lab foresees any opportunities to work with the county Department of Public Utilities on the smart grid.

“That’s something I left out of my update. We do have stimulus money for cleanup and we have teams to go and look for opportunities for competing for stimulus money, or for us to partner with the state or other institutions. We’re interested in all those things, but we’re not ready yet to say these are the ones we’re going to go after,” he said.

Going back to the subject of the lab leasing buildings in town, Councilor Sharon Stover pointed out to Anastasio there are buildings around town that have been without leases for at least two years.

She asked him whether he was aware of the fact.

Anastasio said that he’d look into the matter and get back to council.

Councilors wrapped up their short series of questions with Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer thanking Anastasio for his stewardship of the lab during “these tough economic times.”