Deep Cuts

Two national labs downsize in anticipation of DOE squeeze

Two national labs are eliminating more than 500 staff positions as the government pushes for deep budget cuts at the Department of Energy.

Staff cuts announced yesterday at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island marked the first anticipatory moves—and other national labs are expected to follow as the Department of Energy is expected to cut costs. Oak Ridge 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.

Brookhaven plans to reduce its workforce by 6.5 percent, or 175 jobs, over the next few months, officials said Tuesday. The research institution on Long Island in Upton, N.Y., will offer buyouts to about half the staff as part of what BNL called a “voluntary program” that it says isn’t related to the proposed 2018 budget.

President Trump’s initial budget called for slashing about $900 million from DOE’s Office of Science including $185 million from ORNL’s budget. Thus, more cuts can be expected: the targeted 350 jobs at Oak Ridge 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. FY 2018 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.

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