Oak Ridge to Cut Up to 350 Jobs in 2017; Will Other Labs Follow Suit?

By John Russell

August 9, 2017

It’s not yet clear if staff cuts announced yesterday at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are just the first of others at other national labs as the Department of Energy feels pressure from President Trump to cut costs. ORNL director Thomas Zacharia announced the planned layoffs in an email to ORNL employees Tuesday morning.

“From time to time, sustaining our work effectively and efficiently requires the most difficult of decisions, which is to reduce our staff in certain areas of the lab. To allow us to provide for our research missions and to allocate resources most productively, the Department of Energy has approved a Workforce Restructuring Plan proposed by UT-Battelle that will reduce ORNL’s workforce by up to 350 positions by the end of the calendar year,” wrote Zacharia.

A brief account of the planned layoffs and the text of Zacharia’s email is posted on the Oak Ridge Today news outlet.

President Trump’s initial budget called for slashing about $900 million from DOE’s Office of Science including $185 million from ORNL’s budget. Worry has permeated the academic and government science communities since (see HPCwire articles: Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF; Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers). The targeted 350 ORNL jobs are fewer than the 1,600 number floated by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) back in June. ORNL employs roughly 4,800 people.

The final U.S. FY2018 budget numbers are not yet settled although the new budget is supposed to take effect October 1.  In any event, ORNL is moving quickly. Meetings to explain the cuts are planned to start this week. The hope is voluntary cuts will be sufficient. The cuts are planned to be completed by year-end.

Here’s a bit more from Zacharia’s email:

ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia

“These reductions will be made primarily among staff who charge to indirect accounts, along with some research staff affected by FY17 funding who could not be placed elsewhere in the Lab. By reducing these positions, ORNL will be able to maintain competitive chargeout rates while freeing resources for discretionary investments that will modernize Lab infrastructure and maintain core research capabilities in the mission areas assigned to ORNL.

Initially, a Self-Select Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) will open on Monday, August 14. Employees can apply for the VSP from August 14 to September 27. Management reserves the right to deny any application, and employees will be notified whether their application has been accepted. Accepted employees will leave the payroll by December 31.”

Link to Oak Ridge Today account: http://oakridgetoday.com/2017/08/08/ornl-reduce-workforce-350-end-year/

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