Fermilab looking to reduce staff

 
 
Updated 11/12/2010 6:10 PM

Fermilab, looking to save money in face of uncertainty about its funding, is offering 600 of its workers incentives to quit or retire in December.

Laboratory director Pier Oddone made the announcement during a Thursday meeting with employees.

 

"This kind of thing is not undertaken lightly," Oddone said of the reduction in staff. Lab officials hope at least 50 people take the buyout, and expect as many as 90 might do so.

The offer is in response to a delayed fiscal year 2011 federal budget. Congress failed to adopt a budget before adjourning in September. Instead, it passed a continuing resolution to fund federal activities, and the resolution expires Dec. 3. Congress is scheduled to reconvene Monday.

The fiscal year started Oct. 1.

Oddone believe it is unlikely Congress will adopt a budget during the lame-duck session this calendar year, leaving the new Congress to take it up in January. Instead, the laboratory would function on a continuing resolution at its current level of funding, except for money for its new projects. Continuing resolutions don't allow spending on new projects unless they are categorized as "anomalies," he said.

Applications for the buyouts are due Nov. 29, and employees would be notified a week later. They would then have a week to reconsider their decision and termination would occur two weeks later.

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Fermilab employees about 2,000 people, according to the laboratory's website.

Just because 600 were invited, doesn't mean the lab will show 600 people the door. The number of severances accepted in any division or work team will depend on that group's assignment and the number and type of people needed to accomplish it, Oddone said.

Oddone told employees that the lab's allocation in the proposed FY2011 budget is "incredibly tight." Money to keep running its Tevatron accelerator came at the expense of other projects, he said. The Tevatron was scheduled to shut down in 2011, since the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Europe is up and running. But now it may stay in business until 2014, especially with a recent announcement that the LHC may shut down in 2012 for 15 months of prep work for its next record-setting particle collision.

"I hope that we can manage with this and not go on to more difficult things later in the year. But I cannot guarantee that," Oddone said.

Thursday's news is shades of late 2007 and early 2008, when Fermilab instituted unpaid mandatory furloughs, equivalent to 10 percent pay cuts, when its budget was cut unexpectedly. It planned to lay off up to 200 people, but that proved unnecessary when some of the funding was restored. Congressman Bill Foster of Batavia, a former Fermilab scientist, was the keynote speaker at a celebratory rally in July 2008 at the lab.

Oddone told the workers they must continue to "make the case" for federal spending on scientific research, showing political leaders that it also has economic benefit.

"Certainly when we look at other countries, (their) science investment is increasing," he said.