Lab averts layoffs

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By Roger Snodgrass

The director of Los Alamos National Laboratory told employees Tuesday that there would be no need for involuntary staff layoffs.The laboratory had sought to reduce its workforce by 500-750 employees, first through voluntary departures and then through involuntary layoffs, if necessary.In December, managers began accepting applications from employees willing to accept a standard severance package to step down.While some people changed their minds, 430 self-selected individuals were eventually approved for the first phase of reduction. Thursday will be their last day.Lab officials said Tuesday that another 140 employees have departed the laboratory since Sept. 17, through natural attrition.The combined total of 570 is still below the higher number of 750 employees the lab had set as the upper end of its reduction goal, Director Michael Anastasio said at an all-employee meeting Tuesday. “However, given the 570 we have achieved, coupled with an assessment of the skill-mix consequences and the budget picture, I have decided that it is best for the laboratory not to proceed with an Involuntary Separation Plan at this time,” Anastasio wrote in a follow-up memo that summarized his discussion.There will be a 10-percent reduction, or about 50 positions, from the so-called flexible workforce. The flexible workforce includes a category called “staff augmentation,” employees who generally work for short periods under a subcontract. The flexible workforce also includes limited-term employees, whose ranks could be thinned by not renewing their contracts when they expire.The lab expects these reductions will save another $5 million annually.Anastasio was upbeat about LANL’s budget prospects for this year under the recently signed consolidated appropriation bill.“Overall, this is very good news for the laboratory, providing us with a relatively flat budget compared with last year,” he wrote.  “However, future budget uncertainty mandates that we successfully take advantage of opportunities for program growth and that we carefully manage hiring.”Kevin Roark, a laboratory spokesman, said the voluntary layoffs turned out to be suitably proportionate in terms of job description and directorates.“No one area took a big hit,” he said. “What these numbers tell us is that the plan to manage the workforce restructuring phase one, which relied on spreading reductions across the whole lab, really worked.”The flat budget now visible to lab managers contrasts with recent worst-case budget scenarios of up to $350 million cuts, but Roark noted that next year’s budget would be coming out soon. “The whole idea was to give us more flexibility, so that should a large cut come it would not have to be dealt with in a drastic way,” Roark said.The National Nuclear Security Administration’s latest plans for the weapons complex forecasts a smaller workforce and more consolidated facilities over the next two decades. The laboratory’s main responsibilities for the Department of Energy within that plan will involve nuclear weapons design, high-performance computing and plutonium research. Of particular note, Anastasio wrote, “is the Roadrunner supercomputer where we and IBM turned skeptics into supporters of this new technology approach to supercomputing.”Lab officials expect to break world records on computer speeds by mid-year.To employees and later in a public briefing to county council Tuesday evening, Anastasio also talked about new opportunities for the future.Other promising non-weapons work he mentioned included the lab’s growing role in non-proliferation, sensor and satellite technologies and new contributions to the intelligence community.He emphasized prospects for growth in energy security and energy storage. 

Monitor Reporter Katy Korkos contributed to this story.