Los Alamos National Laboratory director: Buyouts should deflect layoffs
Deborah Baker/Associated Press
Thursday, November 22, 2007
LOS ALAMOS — Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio has a message for workers who may be thinking about retirement: "If you've been waiting for a deal, this is the deal."
Anastasio told state lawmakers Wednesday he's hopeful that enough employees take voluntary buyouts that layoffs won't be necessary at the nuclear weapons lab, where some 500 to 750 jobs will be cut for budget reasons.
Los Alamos is waiting for Department of Energy approval of a restructuring plan under which workers — except those in certain critical jobs — will be offered severance packages, based on years of service, if they leave voluntarily.
After that, the lab would start laying off employees.
"What I hope is that with phase one we get all the people we need," Anastasio told a legislative oversight committee.
Laid-off workers also would get the same severance packages, leading lawmakers to question why anyone would take the voluntary buyout.
Anastasio said there are a "significant number" of employees who are ready to retire but for some reason just haven't done it, and that the buyout may appeal to them.
Workers who take voluntary buyouts could be gone by mid-January, he said.
He rejected suggestions from committee members that the lab encourage a particular group of employees to retire: about 600 so-called "double-dippers" who retired once, then returned to work.
"That's something we cannot do. . . . That has to be their decision," said the director, who added that the lab could be sued for targeting certain employees.
The cuts are being driven by a combination of factors, including flat budgets in recent years, about $175 million in added costs because the lab is no longer being run by a nonprofit operator, low staff turnover and ongoing budget uncertainties.
With nearly 11,000 employees — half of them from outside Los Alamos — the lab is a huge economic force in northern New Mexico. It paid $911 million in salaries in 2006, according to spokesman Kevin Roark.
State Sen. Richard Martinez, an Española Democrat, said the job cuts would put "a big dent in our economy."
Congress hasn't come up with a final budget for the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and the lab is operating under a stop-gap spending measure at last year's level. Anastasio has said the best-case scenario for this year is a flat budget, but there could also be cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The director said trimming 750 jobs — about 9 percent of the lab's regular work force — could save nearly $100 million a year, and that it was prudent in light of the uncertainties.
The lab's budget last year was nearly $2.2 billion.
Roark said the 10,924 workers employed at the lab at the end of September was a drop of nearly 850 from the previous year, demonstrating the lab's belt-tightening efforts.
The cuts will come from a pool of about 8,200 regular lab employees. The remaining workers include contractors — whose ranks already have been thinned — or short-term workers or students or post-doctoral researchers.