LANL Official Terry Wallace briefs audience members at Duane Smith Auditorium Wednesday evening about the voluntary separation program under way at the Lab. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
By Carol A. Clark
Terry Wallace, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology, and Engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory conducted the third and final community forum about the Lab’s Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) now under way.
On March 1, the National Nuclear Security Administration approved the plan to reduce the Laboratory workforce by 400 to 800 employees this spring through a VSP.
Wallace went through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the VSP process with about 30 people gathered inside Duane Smith Auditorium Wednesday evening, including House District 43 candidate Stephanie Richard and representatives Michelle Jacques-Ortiz from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office and Jennifer Catechis from U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan’s office.
LANL Official Terry Wallace conducts a PowerPoint presentation. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Eligible employees from LANL’s regular workforce began applying for voluntary separation March 5. The process is scheduled to complete with employees departing by April 5.
The Lab’s labor force costs determined the need to reduce employees by 400-800, Wallace said.
“This will be the last time that the maximum severance payment will be at 39 weeks,” Wallace said, adding that the severance payment will drop back to 26 weeks.
Deputy Director Johnny Martinez of LANL’s Community Programs Office passes a microphone to an audience member during the forum’s Q & A segment. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
The VSP excludes 300 employees involved in cyber security and systems engineering.
“Our system is attacked 2.5 million times a day,” Wallace said.
Terry Wallace listens to an audience member’s question. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
In addition to the VSP, LANL officials plan to cut about $150 million from the $900 million it spends for goods and services, of which approximately $200 million of that amount is spent in Northern New Mexico.
“We may have to renegotiate some deliverables … I think every national laboratory and probably every national program will be under tremendous economic stress over the next four years,” Wallace said.
Wallace told the audience that he understands how deeply personal this situation is to employees.
He also said that the Lab wants to continue to pay market value for its workforce.
“We believe that’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Eric Fairfield asks whether the Lab is in a death spiral and is assured that it is not. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
During the question and answer segment of Wednesday’s forum, a woman asked whether LANL would maintain active clearances for individuals wishing to return as guest scientists.
Declining to address the clearance issue, Wallace told her that the Lab embraces the guest scientist program.
“On the 11th of April, we’ll (still) have a vigorous guest scientist program,” he said.
Another question addressed whether the Lab will shrink its footprint and pull in its operations that rent space in the townsite.
“We want to reduce the footprint of Los Alamos no matter what … we have to evaluate it … in some cases renting space is the best thing we can do,” Wallace said.
Sen. Tom Udall’s representative Michelle Jacques-Ortiz, left, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan’s representative Jennifer Catechis speak with Rick Ulibarri of LANL’s Government Affairs Office following the close of Wednesday’s Community Forum. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Because the Lab’s budget has been cut, Gross Receipts Tax it pays to Los Alamos County and the state is being reduced.
“There will be an impact … $300 million multiplied by (7.3125) percent… you can do the math…,” he said.
District 43 candidate Stephanie Richard. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
People expressed worry about what will happen if not enough people opt to voluntarily separate or if too many people opt to leave. What if they go through the agony of making the decision and are then told they aren’t eligible?
If 900 people opt to separate and all of N Division wants to leave, they won’t be incentivized, Wallace said.
He assured the audience that in reaching the satisfactory level of voluntary separations, a new budgetary cut would be the only trigger for an involuntary reduction in workforce. Also, April 4 or 5, LANL will publicly announce the number of voluntary separations received.