LANL readies for Oct. 18 shutdown

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By John Severance

The government shutdown has lasted for more than a week — 10 days to be exact.
Los Alamos National Laboratory employees have reported to work but they also have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On Wednesday, it did.

LANL director Charlie McMillan sent a memo to all employees, stating that “without a resolution to the budget impasse, Los Alamos will complete the transition to closure as of the end of business on Friday, Oct. 18.”
McMillan followed up the memo with an all-hands meeting Thursday.

McMillan said that the NNSA has directed all labs and sites to start preparing for the orderly closure of all operations except for those required to maintain minimum safety.

“We will continue to conserve available funding through reductions in travel and discretionary spending. Effective immediately, all travel, overtime and hiring must be approved by a PAD (Principal Associate Director).

“We are currently preparing a list of the safety and security operations that will continue and personnel who would work through the closure to staff them. All other employees will be placed on unpaid furlough starting Monday, Oct. 21 until the laboratory can restart.

The memo also stipulated:
• Employees with adequate vacation balances will be able to record vacation on timecards for the weeks starting October 21 and October 28 if they wish. Vacation advances or other paid leave (sick, jury duty, etc.) will not be allowed, with the exception of employees currently on long-term sick leave.
• Health care and most other benefits will continue, with employee premiums being collected after the furlough as necessary.

McMillan concluded his memo by saying, “I understand the turmoil this creates for you, your families, and the region. I urge you make plans with a possible furlough in mind,” McMillan wrote. “Let me assure you that this Laboratory will continue to protect Special Nuclear Material, national security information, workers, the public, and the environment. We will maintain the ability to respond to national security emergencies.

“It is my sincere hope that this situation is resolved prior to October 18. However, because of the size and complexity of our operations, we must begin the actions necessary for closure now.

"Remain vigilant. Please take extra time for safety and security, especially during these uncertain times.”

The lab already had taken other steps prior to the shutdown.

“LANL has now reached the point where we need to begin standing down certain operations where there is no longer funding available to maintain full operations. Protecting Special Nuclear Material, national security information, workers, the public and the environment remains an essential function,” the lab said in a statement.

In addition, the lab suspended shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Monday.

Four shipments already loaded will be completed. Nuclear material has been secured and facilities are being put into a “safe standby” condition.

The laboratory directed approximately 200 subcontractors on the TRU project to stand down and report back to their companies. These are mostly EnergySolutions subcontractors. Certain other environmental monitoring operations, including those supporting the Santa Fe water utility and a chromium pump test, continue.

In all 290 subcontractors have been told to stand down.

Sandia spokeswoman Heather Clark said Sandia President and Lab Director Paul Hommert spoke with employees Tuesday about “the possibility of a safe, secure and orderly shutdown and preparations we are making as the result of the federal budget impasse.”

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), meanwhile, joined other members of the New Mexico delegation, urging Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to protect pay for employees at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.

“Last weekend, the House passed legislation ensuring that all furloughed federal employees will receive the certainty of back pay,” Pearce said. “To ensure that the thousands in New Mexico who work at DOE contractor facilities like WIPP are included in this budget certainty, I asked Secretary Moniz to act and certify the labs and WIPP will be able to provide for employees, protecting our jobs and local economies.

“Our contractors and employees at WIPP, Sandia, and Los Alamos provide a vital service to our nation, and there is no reason to allow damage to our communities when it can easily be prevented. I ask Secretary Moniz to join us in that spirit of cooperation, for the good of New Mexicans and the nation.”