George H. Miller: Positioning Livermore Laboratory for the future
By: George H. Miller
Article Launched: 04/25/2008 11:01:50 PM PDT
THE LAWRENCE LIVERMORE National Laboratory (LLNL) has gone through many changes throughout its 56-year history — and a constant always has been our exceptional science and technology. From providing solutions to our nation's defense, energy, environment and economic security issues, our Laboratory — along with other Department of Energy (DOE) facilities — is truly a center of excellence with unequaled scientific, technical and engineering capabilities. The laboratory owns a history I have been proud to be associated with — and a future that I am convinced will continue to be bright.
The last year has been a challenge for the laboratory because of the overall budget situation in the country and the recent contract/management change. I'd like to share with you my perspectives on the future and on what's happening and why.
Because of the wise investments by Congress, DOE and its predecessor agencies over the years, LLNL and the other DOE national security laboratories have been incredibly successful in the service of our country.
Our laboratories helped toward winning the Cold War, and, for the last 15 years, we've been able to maintain an ever smaller nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing. It is noteworthy that the stockpile will soon be the smallest since Dwight Eisenhower was president of our nation. Our laboratory, along with others, has led successive revolutions in supercomputing and laser technology and in the development of capabilities that led to the sequencing of the human genome.
We are confronting the problems of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, as well as helping to understand and mitigate the effects of human activity on the environment. And now our laboratory is on the verge of accomplishing something that has eluded the scientific community for 60 years — fusion in the laboratory. This technology may be developed into a source of limitless clean energy for humankind in the future.
While I believe we are on the right path to achieve even more accomplishments, I am also concerned that the nation's financial investments in science may not be able to keep pace.
We all are aware of the economic stress on the country. We've seen the effect on many key industries — industries once thought to be immune to normal economic indicators. The reality is that our laboratory is no different. A constrained federal budget environment does affect our laboratory.
Let me explain how:
The lab's current fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2007 — the same day our contract changed from public to private management. From a budget perspective, several things converged to create a very difficult situation.
The federal government reduced the 2008 fiscal-year funding for the laboratory by $100 million, and we had to absorb the substantial effects of inflation — $50 million this year alone.
The conversion in the management contract from a large public sector employer (University of California) to a small private sector company (Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, also known as LLNS ) brought an additional $85 million in annual costs (taxes and benefit expenses).
In addition, approximately $45 million in increased management fees and expenses is being paid to the new company. Altogether, the laboratory is now dealing with a very real $280 million deficiency.
Throughout our history, the laboratory has had the flexibility, agility and skills to serve the needs of the country and to also deal with some previous financial challenges — but none has been this large.
The reality of all costs converging at one time required aggressive actions. In October 2006, the laboratory's total career and flex-term employee population was 8,880. Since then, we have been reducing the workforce through a combination of normal attrition, voluntary and involuntary separations. Approximately 1,500 people have left the laboratory over the past two years and we have just announced a reduction of up to 535 members of our career workforce.
The decision to move forward with the involuntary reductions was a difficult one that weighed heavily on my mind because of the valuable contributions these employees make and the significant consequences to the individuals and the laboratory.
In the end, we all have to balance our budgets and I decided to move forward to prepare the laboratory for the future in a manner that I believe is both prudent and strategic.
Simultaneously, we are taking other budget-related actions. Drawing on the expertise of the LLNS corporate partners (Bechtel, UC, Babcock & Wilcox and the Washington Division of URS), the management team has initiated a complete organizational review and has begun implementation of a more effective service delivery model.
This approach already has saved nearly $10 million in non-labor expenses. Completion of this process over 12 to 18 months will result in a laboratory that can more cost effectively and efficiently fulfill its mission: to provide exceptional science and technology to help solve the nation's most important challenges in global security, energy and environment and economic competitiveness.
For the past 56 years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has applied multidisciplinary science, engineering and technology to meet urgent challenges in national and global security. I believe the opportunities ahead — both scientifically and operationally — are even brighter.
But it will require hard decisions, perseverance and patience by all of us, along with the implementation of necessary operational efficiencies. I believe that the end result — world-class employees working at a center of excellence — for the San Francisco Bay Area, the nation and the world — is well worth it.
Miller is director Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
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