Jul 28, 2007

LANL Work Force Stable Through September, Director Says

By Deborah Baker
Journal Staff Writer

SANTA FE — Jittery workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory won't have to worry about their jobs for at least the next couple of months, director Michael Anastasio says.

Anastasio said there would be no further cuts at the nuclear weapons lab before the new federal budget year begins Oct. 1.

"I'm confident that we will not have to do anything ... through the end of September,'' he told an oversight committee Friday.

What happens after that depends on what level of funding is authorized by Congress for the new fiscal year.

The House slashed $300 million from the lab's budget, which currently is nearly $2.2 billion, signaling the exasperation of key House leaders with years of safety and security lapses at Los Alamos.

The Senate hasn't voted yet, but its bill leaves the budget mostly unchanged. A conference committee would produce the final version.

If the House spending plan was adopted there would have to be job cuts, said Anastasio, who just finished his first year as head of the lab under its new, private operator, Los Alamos National Security LLC.

But he said the outcome of budget negotiations is far from certain.

"I know there's a lot of anxiety ... I don't want to heighten the anxiety of the employees and make them feel like I'm predicting it's going to happen,'' he said.

The lab had to do some belt-tightening this year because of higher costs due to the new management setup. It lost a tax break it enjoyed when it was run by the University of California, for example, and had to pay the state an additional $50 million this year.

More than 300 contract jobs were eliminated in the year that ended June 30, the director said. In addition, there was the usual turnover — including retirements — that accounted for about 370 additional departures, Anastasio said. Some of those jobs were filled, but lab officials were unable to say how many.

According to figures provided earlier by the lab, there were more than 12,000 workers as of the end of April. Just over 9,000 of them were LANS employees, 1,000 or so were students and postdoctoral researchers and more than 2,000 were contractors, including security and maintenance workers.

If next year's budget remains much the same as this year's, no drastic changes will be needed in the work force, Anastasio said.

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a written statement to the committee that the funding fight in Congress is a signal "that change is needed'' if the lab's future is to be secure.

He said it is "now up to LANS to decide whether it wants to diversify and thrive, or remain focused only on its current mission, which, as we have seen this year, means an uphill battle.''

Anastasio told the panel that the lab — where the atomic bomb was born — is "grounded in our heritage and history'' and that nuclear weapons are an important deterrent and part of the nation's defense.

Nearly 70 percent of the lab's work is defense or national security or weapons-related, according to lab officials.

But Anastasio said the lab's mission had undergone shifts since its founding in 1943, and that it welcomed any new work the federal government wanted it to do — and provided funding for.

The lab doesn't set policy, he told lawmakers.

"I would love to have a huge program at this laboratory to deal with the challenge of water,'' in areas such as water management, distribution and contamination cleanup, Anastasio said.

State legislators expressed concern that changing the lab's core mission from nuclear weapons work to energy or another focus would jeopardize national defense and erode the influence of the facility, which is northern New Mexico's largest employer.


Anonymous said...

He forgot to say "trust me!"

Anonymous said...

"In addition, there was the usual turnover — including retirements — that accounted for about 370 additional departures, Anastasio said. Some of those jobs were filled, but lab officials were unable to say how many."

The Director and his Sr. Lab Officials, collectively referred to as "The Ourweus", is unable to say how many new hires there were? That just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in The Ourweus, especially after I saw the memo where The Ourweus stated:

"We developed a set of actions to enhance our ability as a high performance leadership team."

Doesn't The Ourweus get a dashboard report every month giving them this information?

Please remind me again what level signature is needed to sign off on a new hire? Truly incredible.

Anonymous said...

7:22 PM, if you are an AD you can hire anyone you wish - with or without funds. As an AD you get to call whomever you want to a "strategic hire" even if they are a foreign national without programmatic funding. Yes, truly incredible.

Anonymous said...

Anastascio is quickly blowing all credibility with the workforce. It's time to hit the reset button.

qgrrrl said...

Hmmmm, how many, um, "deployed in people's homes" 37" flat screen monitors would it take to pay the salary of one scientist for a year?

Am I too cynical, or would a vigorous campaign to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse be in order before layoffs occur?

OTOH, such a measure might very well lead to the "layoffs" of employees committing waste, fraud and abuse. Such a pity.

Anonymous said...

"Hmmmm, how many, um, "deployed in people's homes" 37" flat screen monitors would it take to pay the salary of one scientist for a year?

Am I too cynical, or would a vigorous campaign to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse be in order before layoffs occur?" - 10:38 PM

Poster 10:38 PM, the majority of the waste, fraud, and abuse doesn't come from things like 37" LCD going out the front door. It comes from the overhead bloat that exists in the management and support offices. If real progress is to be made in reducing costs at LANL, that is the obvious place to start.

Anonymous said...

The drastic House cuts probably won't take effect, but a Continuing Resolution could still cause a huge drop in next year's funding. Bush wants a budget fight with the Dems, so the odds of a CR are very high.

I'm curious. At what point would RIFs be executed by LANS? Would it happen with cuts of $150 M? How about $100 M, or even $50 M? I'd like to hear what contigency plans LANS has constructed for the various budget scenarios (if any).

Anonymous said...

11:42, it might be more fruitful to focus on one's own contingency plans. I suspect there will not be much lead time if things get to that point, but that's based on working elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

This scenario looks very familiar, and feels much like what happened back in '94. If it plays out true to form, you can expect upper management to deny RIFs up until the late Winter of '08, at which point they'll suddenly announce the need for layoffs during an All-Hands meeting. RIF lists will then be constructed during the Spring of '08. Rumors about offers of payments for voluntary separation will be in the air, but don't believe them. NNSA and DOE are not about to let LANS spend any extra cash on these efforts, regardless of what the politicians may be demanding from LANS. At best, NNSA will throw out a small pot of money for "re-education" of some laid-off workers.

First to hit the chopping block will be TSM positions. Once this is done, it will give LANS the political cover to begin layoffs of support workers without facing legal fines for racial or gender discrimination, though, legal charges of this type will still be thrown against LANL. No managers will be laid off. Not a single one.

If you hold a large mortgage on a home in Los Alamos County, watch out! Bankruptcy is now a very real and growing possibility. It happened to some laid off workers back in '95 when they couldn't unload their homes. If at all possible, try to secure a position in management, as this will be the safest place to sit during the next few years. If you are a non-management TSM, don't wait until a funding shortfall hits your position. Begin lining up your funding support now and talk sweetly to those who have control over the programmatic money. They now have life and death control over your job, whether you like it or not. As you might expect, the good 'ol boy network will be working in overdrive during this period of time. Survival is going to be on everyone's mind as we traverse the chaos and anxiety of the next 2 years at LANL.

After 2 years of cuts and layoffs, both LANL and Los Alamos County will be extremely eager to have a shiny, new Pit Factory built in our back yard. I suspect NNSA knows this all too well.

Anonymous said...

9:38 am: "it might be more fruitful to focus on one's own contingency plans..."

Absolutey correct and excellent advice for all LANL workers, except perhaps those who 1) don't have any dependents or debt, 2) those who otherwise don't need the job, are confident of immediately obtining work elsewhere, or just don't give a rat's ass, or 3) those who are absolutely certain they will not be RIFed. Which are you?

Having had plenty of time to observe LANS's failure to plan, whom will you blame for your own? October is coming...

- Already Gone

Anonymous said...

Oh, boy! Two more months left to live it up. Thanks, Mike! Better go out and buy that fancy new car and pick up a big mortgage on a Los Alamos McMansion while I still can.

On the bright side, since no managers will be laid off, you can bet they'll be able to pick up some sweet deals on McMansion foreclosures in the next few years.

Anonymous said...

Do the math. If you work at LANL and are in TCP1, here is what you have to look forward to in the next few years:

UC short-changed TCP1 assets to the tune of about $150 million. We already know that UCRP needs about 16% of current salaries to support their pension. For TCP1, the figure is likely to be around 20% due to the big UC induced asset shortfall. Since LANS won't be willing to do anything about the TCP1 shortfall for at least another two years, by the time they get around to adding in the extra funding, it will take about %25 percent of current worker salary to fully support TCP1.

You going to see 2% raises at best over the next few years, and then be subjected to greater than 20% cuts in your salary to support TCP1. LANS will use this financial pain as inducement to get people out of TCP1 and into TCP2. Of course, by this point in time, LANS contributions to the TCP2 401k's will be minimal. Still, many workers will take the offer to escape the financial pain of TCP1.

If you think it is painful at LANL right now, just give it another year or two. You haven't seen anything yet.

Anonymous said...

7/28/07 10:38 PM,

It's very easy for these types of efforts to end up costing more than they save. Those 37" monitors are bought and paid for already. Are you going to stop future purchases? How? By requiring DL's and AD's--the most expensive FTE's possible--to spend their time approving such purchases?

How about the initiative to cut down on 996 pagers? How many person-hours across the lab, at $100+ per hour, have been wasted on compiling lists of people who own 996 pagers; writing and reading emails about why we should get rid of 996 pagers; traveling to the radio shop to turn in 996 pagers; laying out $40 initial cost for a new 664 pager; updating directory listings to the new 664 pagers; and reading the manual to learn how to use the new 664 pagers?

Let's say we got 2000 people to turn in their 996 pagers. Now let's say it cost 4 hours of labor (avg $150/hour) per pager to make the transition, plus the $40 trade-in fee. That's $1320K spent to make the transition.

At an average $40 monthly operating cost per 996 pager, it will take over 16 months for the lab to recover the expense of this "cost-savings" initiative.

Anonymous said...

2 more months of "grace" but of course it's not Mikey's job that is imperiled.... The senior managers hang on forever regardless of their actual effectiveness or need. Management bloat continues handing out fat salaries (150 and over) and bonuses while the support side probably averages a dizzying SSM-2 salary in the mid-60K range.., compared to the TSM range of plus 100K....

OH WAIT... we have a whole new job classification scheme kicking in October 1... that should settle it all....

Anonymous said...

Mr. A makes Alberto Gonzales (our distinguished U.S. Attorney) look like Honest George. The Committee asked questions the Ewok couldn't answer? Not likely. Mr. A simply chose not to. He knew this was a spineless group of political wantabees, and he could do with them as he pleased. This is precisely what he did...what he please.

Anonymous said...

"At an average $40 monthly operating cost per 996 pager, it will take over 16 months for the lab to recover the expense of this "cost-savings" initiative." - 7/29/07 1:28 PM.

In the real world, this really is low hanging fruit.

What I am seeing is that the workforce is being squeezed so that many will leave. The next wave will be an influx of Mormons. They want the Lab. The shun-and-purge of "gentiles" is underway. Note the recent public talk of adding a new ward to the townsite church. Note the new Mormon faces showing up at work.

Anonymous said...

If you're an average TSM at LANL, your labor rate, fully burdened, runs to about $200 per hour. Note that this doesn't include any equipment or travel costs. It also doesn't include taxes which are skimmed of the top of incoming funds by DOE, LDRD, and the various Program Offices. Because of the extremely high FTE rates, not much is saved by clamping down on purchase orders for things like large LCD monitors. In fact, any extra paperwork burden on TSMs acts to increase costs.

As one poster once stated so well, just going to the restroom to take a crap at LANL costs sponsors about $50! To save money, LANL must begin to reduce the bloated management and burden rates that are killing our institution. However, they will never do this.

Anonymous said...

"More than 300 contract jobs were eliminated in the year that ended June 30, the director said. "

LIE. Look at all the special contracts that were cancelled that supported several folks part time as well as indirectly a number of small businesses in northern New Mexico. The number is closer to 1000.

Anonymous said...

"The lab doesn't set policy, he told lawmakers."I would love to have a huge program at this laboratory to deal with the challenge of water,'' in areas such as water management, distribution and contamination cleanup, Anastasio said." (News)

Great! That's the ticket, Mikey. Let's have big bags of money dumped on LANL for water research. Of course, we'll have to fire all the physics and nuclear engineering Phds and hire a bunch of hydrologist, but, what the heck. Sounds like a winning plan to me. Give Mikey a bonus for that brillant idea!

Anonymous said...

Last week LANS stated that **ALL** lab travelers are going to be forced to use lab issued credit cards for all travel costs. Furthermore, we will be moving towards a new policy of No Receipt = No Reimbursement. And if it's not charged to the card, it going to take an exception to get that reimbursement.

Travel is about to get a lot more painful at LANL. I suspect that the bean counters view lab travel as a perk. I'll admit that it is quite "perky" for some lucky staff, but for most, it's nothing but a time burden. Now, it's going to become both a financial and a time burden for many who have to travel.

Way to go LANS! This is a sure method to boost low staff morale.

Anonymous said...

the 1,000 figure is about right if you count all the contractors who got dumped as well as students and "limited-term" employees and lump that in with retirees and those who simply bailed.

But of course a lot of those in that 1,000 weren't counted as "employees" to begin with... still GONE is GONE

Anonymous said...

7/29/07 5:01 PM - interesting, but I have not seen a reduction in the amount of travel Mike, big Terry, and the ADs and Dep ADs are doing. In fact, I have seen an increase in the amount of travel these "leaders" of ours ared doing. And really, how has the increase in their travel done to benefit the Lab? As far as I can tell, it has done nothing.

Anonymous said...

Poster 7/29/07 1:28 PM makes an excellent point. The budget cuts that are being made are not really budget cuts and are just for appearances and well to lower morale so that people will leave so that the October RIFs won't look so bad.

Anonymous said...

I heard from my group leader that the RIFs will be done along the lines of "last in, first to go". And since Mike just renewed KSL's contract for another year, the layoffs won't be happening there.

Anonymous said...

7:10 pm. Almost no regular staff has been hired since LANS took over. So the "last in" would be all the LANS high performance leaders.

Anonymous said...

7/29/07 5:01 PM

Have you noticed that travelers are now going to be able to (read: be required to) book their own travel? Another cost savings measure... because after all, if we shift the overhead work to the exempt TSM's, we don't have to pay overtime!

Anonymous said...

To a few of the posts above me. Regarding the mormon influx... Huh? That has to be one of the stupidest things I've read on here. If a large number of mormons are arriving, who cares? Until the LDS church itself bids to run the place, I don't think it really matters what religious affiliation any TSM or contractor has. People complain about LANL being arrogant - do you want to add the adjective "intolerant" to the list? We're already half way there with all of the garbage posted about people from "the valley". (For the record, I'm not mormon, and I'm not from the valley -- I'm a plain old white guy born out of state with no particular religious affiliation who works at the lab.)

On the travel topic. I've worked at the lab for a decade (yes, that makes me one of those young-uns), and I've always travelled using the lab issued credit cards. Why is this news? When I worked in private industry, I always had a company-issued charge card for my travel. And I always had to have receipts to verify my expenses. Observing visitors that I've hosted at the lab over the years, I see them diligently collecting their receipts too. This isn't really novel. Is the fact that LANL is asking it's employees to act like everyone else in the world too much to ask?

Come on people. Complain about topics that have some merit.

Anonymous said...

Whether it's Mormon or Muslim taking over the Lab...who really cares...right? Remember the Jim Jackson takeover attempt for LDS? Wasn't that long ago. But what the hey...we all just get along here, don't we? We say it all the time, i.e. regarless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religion, we do NOT discriminate. That's because we're different. We're Los Alamos, and we're in denial...always...no matter what. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Last in are those poor SOBs that were hired as part of the contingent worker program. As predicted these are the folks who will be fodder for the RIF. Now that all the special contract support people are gone, the next batch of support staff will leave LANL in gridlock.

Anonymous said...

Monday, July 30, 2007

LANL Tax Payments Lower Than Early Estimates

By Raam Wong
Journal Northern Bureau
LOS ALAMOS— Los Alamos National Laboratory's annual gross receipts tax payments could be significantly lower than previously projected, meaning less money for state and local government coffers.
The lab became subject to the tax when a for-profit corporation took over lab management from the University of California, a nonprofit, in June 2006.
Then, LANL and state officials estimated the lab's annual tax payments could total nearly $90 million. Now, officials say payments are more likely to be between $50 million to $80 million.
The reason for the revised estimate is that the lab's new corporate manager, Los Alamos National Security, has been in continuous discussions with the state Taxation and Revenue Department and an independent accountant in an effort to pinpoint exactly what lab business is and what is not taxable.
One exception found so far: the lab's out-of-state work, most notably weapons research at the Nevada Test Site, will not be subject to the tax, LANL spokesman Kevin Roark told the Journal on Friday.
Other nontaxable activities include educational outreach and contracting with small or minority businesses.
The lab is also looking at whether it can deduct its production of nuclear weapons triggers, known as pits, which are shipped to the Pantex nuclear weapons plant, in Amarillo.
"It's one of those negotiating points," Roark said. The state tax department is conducting an ongoing audit of the lab's gross receipts tax payments, Roark said.
The lab formerly paid about $35 million in gross receipts taxes annually because its manager, University of California, was exempt from a large share of the taxes because of its nonprofit status.
When the lab management was transferred to Los Alamos National Security, state lawmakers salivated over the estimated windfall— $50 million a year to state coffers and $40 million to Los Alamos County.
In March, county officials announced plans to share some of that new wealth with surrounding cities and counties in the form of regional transportation projects, health care and other initiatives.
But lab officials said the lab's tax bill was intentionally overestimated to avoid budget problems.
"No one realistically thought (the tax) was going to be that high," Roark said.
The lab's new estimate of between $50 million and $80 million includes the approximately $35 million that the lab was already paying.
Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, acknowledged that state and local governments would likely see less tax revenue from the lab than previously thought.
But she added that lower tax payments make it less likely that the cash-strapped lab will have to lay off workers. "There's been a pro and con all along," Wallace said.
LANL director Michael Anastasio on Friday cited the new tax liability as one reason money is so tight at the lab. Anastasio told the state Legislature's LANL Oversight Committee that the lab has had to cut contract positions, travel, maintenance and other expenses to make ends meet.
Before the management switch, the idea of taxing the lab— northern New Mexico's largest employer— had been bandied about by legislators and others for years. Supporters of such a move pointed to Sandia National Laboratory, which provides similar services but pays the tax because it is operated by a private corporation.

Anonymous said...

LANS has started a new worker re-training program. Here's a sneak peak at the first chapter:

Lesson 1: Now repeat after me.

"Do you want fries with that?"

K. Boland said...

11:50 AM - Maybe for you. Some of us have useful skills that other employers will like.
Although I used to work at Subway and make a damn good sanwich....

Anonymous said...

"Some of us have useful skills that other employers will like."

Maybe, but maybe not. Don't kid yourself. Many on the LANL staff are not as valuable as they might think to outside employers. That, I think, is why we've not seen a rush for the exits even with the dismal situation at LANL. I also don't see management bending over backwards to hold on to some of our more stellar staff. Perhaps they know they can be replaced at a cheaper rate or just don't see a need for them anymore given our future direction.

Anonymous said...

11:56 - And those that did try to run for the exits got a rude awakening. I know at least two people in my regular circle of contacts at the lab who were dead set to leave, applied to multiple jobs in the outside world all over the east coast, and were unceremoniously rejected. Needless to say, those people are now spending their time trying to find next year's funding.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of jobs for scientists, but those jobs are mainly targeted for people just out of college who have few responsibilities and are willing to work for under $80K. That rules out almost all of the TSMs who currently work at LANL.

Anonymous said...

I suppose there are a lot of disgruntled "hotshots" at LANL who are about to discover that they are really not all that "hot" after they begin their job search. And when the RIFs finally hit home, these same people will be in a very big panic over their meager options.