Jan 21, 2008
THERE IS MORE surgery ahead at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. We hope that once the bleeding stops, the patient will be able to regain its strength.
Under new management since Oct. 1, the nuclear weapons lab has already cut about 500 employees, bringing the staff down to about 7,300 full-time jobs. Last week, lab Director George Miller announced reductions of about 700 more.
This wasn't what we expected when the University of California joined forces with San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. to run the facility. UC had run it on its own until security lapses and financial blunders at Livermore and the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico prompted the federal government to seek management bids.
In May, after the new contract was announced, Miller said that efficiencies, attrition and other changes would bring enough savings to avoid layoffs. But that hasn't been the case and, to make matters worse, the new federal budget cut annual funding for the lab by about $100 million, down to about $1.49 billion.
"The transition is over," Miller told lab workers last week. "Change is not. Change, in many respects, is going to continue for at least two more years." That is certainly unsettling to lab workers, who play a critical role in our national security with their work on nuclear weapons, energy alternatives, global warming and the development of supercomputers.
But Miller is right. With our military engagements, a growing national debt and a new administration in Washington next year, change is inevitable.
Miller does not think the next round of job cuts can be accomplished through attrition alone. So he seeks approval for a plan that apparently will include a form of buyouts. That's a wise move to help preserve morale.
But there is an even bigger challenge ahead. Even in these times of cuts and instability, Miller said, the lab must continue to maintain and recruit the brightest talent to ensure a top-quality workforce.
The lab has been an attractive place to work in the past. New hires could be lured with promises of working on critical programs with leading-edge technical resources. And the lab was known for providing job security and excellent benefits.
It is good to see the lab moving forward with plans to fund raises for its workers and make employee benefits more competitive with those available elsewhere in the Bay Area. The lab is too critical to the nation and the East Bay's economy to allow it to slip into intellectual mediocrity.