Sep 6, 2007
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The director of Los Alamos National Laboratory told employees Thursday the lab must plan for possible layoffs, saying the nuclear weapons lab doesn't know how much money Congress will give it next year.
Michael Anastasio said in a memo that outlined the steps managers have taken — such as cutting non-personnel costs and reducing spending — "as a hedge against employee layoffs."
"But given the current budget uncertainty and given that the biggest cost for the laboratory is personnel, these steps may not prove to be sufficient," Anastasio warned in the memo, issued after an all-employees meeting.
In late July, Anastasio told jittery workers at the northern New Mexico lab that there would be no further cuts before the new federal budget year begins Oct. 1.
The U.S. House has passed a bill that eliminated about $350 million from the lab's current budget of $2.2 billion.
A Senate committee essentially left the current budget intact. That isn't expected to change when the full Senate votes on the measure, leaving a conference committee to produce a final version.
There's no way to estimate the impact on employees, but to delay a contingency plan only would compound the problem, said Anastasio, who recently finished his first year as head of the lab under its new private operator, Los Alamos National Security LLC.
He formed a team to meet with National Nuclear Security Administration and Department of Energy officials to start developing what he called "a work force restructuring plan."
The plan "will focus on preserving the right jobs and people so that the laboratory can successfully carry out its missions," he said, adding that the plan will enable the lab to deal with "any budget uncertainties in the future."
The House bill affects other labs in the DOE's complex, including Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, which held a manager's meeting Thursday and said it also is planning for the future.
In June, Sandia officials said that lab faced a potential $180 million cut.
Stephanie Holinka, a spokeswoman for Sandia, said Thursday the lab has not announced any layoffs but is "trying to do some serious and unpleasant planning."
"We wanted employees to know that it wasn't looking very good for anything to pass anytime soon. ... We're not happy; we're nervous; this planning process will be going on for some time," she said.
Greg Mello of Albuquerque, a member of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear watchdog group, contended it would be good for the nation if lab budgets are deeply cut over the next few years.
"There would be no need for layoffs this year, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest, if NNSA and our congressional delegation worked together on a few relatively easy reforms including retirement incentives," he said.