At ORNL, Jeff Smith Becomes Interim Director, as Search for Permanent Lab Chief Continues

By Tiffany Trader

January 20, 2023

UT-Battelle, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the U.S. Department of Energy, has appointed Jeff Smith as interim director for the lab as the search continues for a permanent director. Smith served as ORNL’s chief operating officer from 2000-2021, coming into the role when UT-Battelle began managing the lab for the DOE. During his tenure, Smith led a $400 million modernization effort at the lab, according to UT-Battelle. He retired from the position in April 2021.

Jeff Smith

Smith’s interim appointment went into effect on Jan. 1. The UT-Battelle Board of Governors working in consultation with the Department of Energy opted not to go forward with any of the candidates from the initial applicant pool. While that lack of a first-round selection disappointed some, Smith is said to be held in high regard at Oak Ridge.

“[Smith’s] understanding of ORNL and his strong relationships with DOE will help lab programs and projects to move forward without interruption,” noted an internal memo from UT-Battelle Board co-chairs that was shared with ORNL employees.

Smith’s experience with U.S. government projects and in particular DOE laboratories spans multiple decades with ties to Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Prior to coming to ORNL in 2001, he was deputy for operations at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Since 2018, Smith has served on the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a Senate appointment.

The search to fill ORNL’s top post follows the retirement of Thomas Zacharia, who stepped down at the end of 2022 after 35 years at ORNL. As the lab director during the last five of those years, Zacharia oversaw the launch of the ‘pre-exascale’ (150-petaflops) Summit supercomputer and the procurement and installation of the world’s first officially ranked exascale supercomputer, Frontier.

Photo courtesy ORNL

The search committee – comprised of 14 members with a mix of ORNL and UT-Battelle affiliations (see this page for the list) – has tapped global executive search firm Russell Reynolds to help fill the vacancy.

“We are excited to partner with Russell Reynolds as we identify the next director of ORNL to help guide us to an exciting future in support of the nation,” said Lou Von Thaer, CEO of Battelle and co-chairman of the UT-Battelle Board of Governors in a statement.

“We are committed to identifying a leader who will continue ORNL’s 80-year legacy of enabling world-leading experts to leverage uniquely powerful tools for breakthroughs that serve national priorities in fundamental science, energy technology, and national security,” said Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee System and co-chairman of the UT-Battelle Board of Governors.

A specific timeframe for the ultimate selection was not given, but the board co-chairs told the ORNL community that they “intend to bring a new director on board as soon as [they] reasonably can.”

Another key position that was recently filled at ORNL is the Associate Laboratory Director for the Computing and Computational Systems Directorate. Doug Kothe, who is also director of the United States’ Exascale Computing Project (ECP), assumed the ORNL post on June 6, 2022, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Jeff Nichols.

Additional information about the Lab Director position can be found on the ORNL website.

 

 

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