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Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Quick Observation

Post brought to the top

I only just found this blog and I’ve just spent the last few hours reading it all! I think there’s too much emphasis on the role that the transition directly played in the current problems. The problems were created by years of allowing costs to spiral out of control –that is not pushing back on DOE directives on safety and security. You could argue that this was an indirect result of the transition since there was so many years leading up to it where LLNL/UC was unwilling to put a foot wrong lest it lose the contract.

It could be argued that a government funded lab that is as complicated to run and secure as LLNL just shouldn’t be in California – it’s too expensive here. It would seem somewhat reasonable then to conclude that the current contractor’s job, one that is 7 years in length, is to shut the lab down. The government has decided that regardless of how cheap LLNL is compared to futile efforts like the Iraq war, it can’t afford us anymore. In the end this comes down to a general reduction in the value of science and its long term benefits versus the potential for obvious and short term results. The whole of America is feeling this squeeze from corporations due to spiraling costs and we are certainly not alone. Sometimes it’s hard to separate irritation with what is happening at LLNL with what is happening in the US as a whole.

For many support positions at the lab, their salary is way above that which they would obtain for an equivalent position in the private sector. Why would these people have ever taken the VVSOP? This growth of overpaid support over the last 20 years is really what has caused costs to spiral.

We are now at a point of diminishing returns. We (scientists who write proposals for funding) are finding it next to impossible to obtain funds because of our high cost. No-one will pay what we cost. Therefore funds continue to reduce and costs continue to rise.

Added to this, the incredible waste of management. Everytime you hear the word “reorg”, millions of dollars just got wasted doing something that adds no value! This vicious cost versus fund cycle is a death spiral for the lab. Biosecurity has about 12 months to extinction at LLNL. Chemistry and basic physics, maybe 2 years. DNT and comp can survive longer but NIF failure will close the lab.

In the process, every decision the lab management makes lowers the standard of the workforce and makes the above scenario even more likely. “Substantially equivalent in the aggregate!” It’s very sad. In the end this is not about persecution as I think everyone has a responsibility for their own career and relative job security. In the end, the reason that talented scientists won’t come to the lab is nothing to do with job security, it’s because of the observable loss of quality science and wasteful management occurring around them. This is about the loss of values, integrity, and scientific discovery that is occurring as LLNL (and in the nation as a whole) as it is slowly taken down.

April 6, 2008 5:35 PM


Anonymous said...

I don't believe the wages paid to non degreed support labor at LLNL are above average at all. Being one of those I will tell you that it's barely enough to live from payday to payday with no funds for entertainment at all. It's barely enough to keep a roof over my head, make a car payment and now days I'm very lucky I have enough funds to put gas in my vehicle to get to work.

So in reality the wages are not out of line, they are barely sufficient to sustain life in California.

That being the case I see no way for LLNS to hire anyone lower than what they are paying now and I would suggest that anyone who is thinking about coming to work for LLNS in Californian to do some serious investigation on how many dollars an hour one has to make to live here. I am sure they'll find out that most of the people at LLNL are UNDER_PAID and what LLNL is paying is the bare minimum to SURVIVE here in the valley, the cheapest place to live within a reasonable commute distance.

So please if anyone is thinking about becoming employed at LLNL look at the pay scales, the cost of living and DO NOT accept anything less than the "highest paid person in that classification", because you simple WILL NOT make it in California if you do.

As it stands now everyone, well at least the blue colar workers should get a 20% raise and then maybe they'll break even after paying for the cost of gas for getting to work.

So, maybe you're correct about closing LLNL and maybe that is truly LLNS job over the next seven years. Maybe taking it someplace else is the answer, but I doubt it. As soon as they here you are coming and know your wages everything will just go up and you'll have accomplished nothing.

Enjoy your dream.

Anonymous said...

Good to make this a top level post..the 'quick observation' was quite insightful.

I'm in full agreement with 7:38 PM on salary though. As of a few years ago the poverty level here was 50k a year. If your not making that it is best to leave LLNL. You will never get ahead as you will be living paycheck to paycheck until a heart attack or retirement takes you out.

I just found an article on it:
"A family of four in the Bay Area with two working adults must earn $77,069, equaling an hourly wage of $18.53, just to pay for basic necessities"

Anonymous said...

"blue colar workers should get a 20% raise."

True. Most of the support staff have to commute from the valley. With gas prices spiraling, their model of living is at risk. What is the breaking point? 10$ a gallon? 15? At some point, they will just stop showing up for work.
A 'sick day' will save them 30$ or more in gas.

Anonymous said...

A Bay Area couple with two kids can't make it on $50,000 a year
Sam Zuckerman, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Maria Frias thinks of herself as middle class.

She works as an office manager for Bay Area Legal Aid, where she draws a salary of about $27,000 a year. Her husband, Ricardo, drives a laundry truck and takes in about $26,000.

But all they can afford is a $750-a-month, one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco's Excelsior neighborhood. They sleep in the same room as their daughters, Stephanie, 10, and Andrea, 6. They have no telephone. And Frias has to set aside about $400 a month to pay off a credit card balance that went into collection.

"It's so hard," Frias said. "I'm falling behind."

The hard truth is that $53,000 a year doesn't cut it anymore in the Bay Area. Tens of thousands of working families in the region, even those with what many would consider decent-paying jobs, find a modestly comfortable standard of living is out of their reach.

A family of four in the Bay Area with two working adults must earn $77,069, equaling an hourly wage of $18.53, just to pay for basic necessities, a study released today calculates. If only one adult works, that figure falls to $53,075, largely because the family doesn't have to pay for child care, according to the report by the California Budget Project, a liberal Sacramento research group. But that one wage-earner must make $25.52 an hour.

And a single parent with two children needs to take in $65,864 annually, at an hourly wage of $31.67, to cover expenses, the Budget Project figures.

Statewide, the two-working-parent family needs an annual income of $72,343 to cover necessities; the family with one working adult must earn $50,383.

That's in a state with one of the highest minimum hourly wages in the country - $7.50. In San Francisco, the minimum wage is even higher, $9.14. The federal minimum wage is $5.85.

"Most Californians live on less than $50,000," said Michael Shires, an associate professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.

The Bay Area is by many measures the richest region in the United States. Median household income - the level at which half of households are above and half below - was $62,024 in 2000, the highest in the nation, according to the Census Bureau.

But that means that almost half of all households in the region don't take in what the Budget Project reckons is needed to make ends meet. Those families often must do without some of the things viewed as essential to middle-class life, such as health insurance or a separate bedroom for the kids.

The federal poverty threshold, used by the government to calculate how many of the nation's people are poor, is an income of $20,650 for a family of four. That means basic necessities in the Bay Area cost roughly 2.5 times the federal poverty level.

"This report shows that we do need to look at families substantially above the poverty line," said Jean Ross, the Budget Project's executive director.

Today's report marks the fourth time the project has toted up the cost of living in California. The last study, issued two years ago, showed that a two-parent family with one wage earner needed to bring in $46,919 to maintain a minimal middle-class living standard; a two-earner family required $70,708. The higher cost this year largely reflects rising health insurance premiums.

Project researchers looked at a living standard above a bare-bones existence, but covering only basic expenses, with little margin for discretionary outlays such as vacations and college tuition.

They estimated prices of housing, child care, transportation, food, health care, taxes and miscellaneous, a category that lumps together everything else. They looked at rental costs rather than home ownership and made certain other assumptions that have big effects on living standards.

For example, they included as a necessity individually purchased health insurance, although many families are covered at least partly through work. And, in an effort to figure what it takes to support a family without public assistance, they didn't consider the help many families get from government benefits such as housing and child health care subsidies.

According to those assumptions, the biggest expense was rent, estimated at an average of $1,312 for a family of four in the Bay Area, higher than the statewide estimate of $1,160. Child care was the second biggest outlay at about $1,216, followed by taxes and health coverage.

Real families, of course, vary tremendously in their spending. Until a few months ago, Maria and Ricardo Frias, who are both 34, paid a babysitter $800 every four weeks. Now, the daughters attend after-school programs until Maria is able to pick them up at the end of the day.

They pay rent far below the project's estimate, but the trade-off is that they don't have the space they need. Maria gets medical insurance through her job, but she says her out-of-pocket expenses are heavy. The Friases also are paying today for past living expenses, when they earned far less, in the form of credit card finance charges.

The couple has tried many times to come up with a way to pay for a two-bedroom apartment and adult education.

"Really working hard and maybe getting a second job ... that would be the only way," Maria Frias said.

Families in the Bay Area and the rest of the state use a variety of strategies to cope with high living costs, Ross noted.

"People cut corners in a variety of ways," she said. "Some are in below-market-rate housing. Many people go without health coverage. And a lot of people live by spending more than they earn.

The project says its findings show a need for public spending on social programs, such as subsidized child care and health coverage. Health spending is at the center of a major policy debate in California, where Gov. Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are weighing plans for universal coverage.

"Many families may need assistance to make ends meet," said Ross, the project's executive director.

Those who believe government's role should be limited disagree.

"To say $50,000 is a minimum to have a modest middle income lifestyle is a reasonable statement," Pepperdine's Shires said. "But you have to be careful when you start talking about policy implications."

For her part, Maria Frias is sometimes frustrated and at other times philosophical about what it costs to raise a family.

"I see other people who are worse," she said, "and I consider myself lucky."

Source: Chronicle research

Monthly living cost

How much households must spend on average each month to live in the

Bay Area:

Single adult

Single-parent family (two kids)

Two-parent family (one working)

Two-parent family (both working)


Note: In the study, the Bay Area is made up of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties.

Source: California Budget Project

E-mail Sam Zuckerman at

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you that $90K - #100K a year with only one person working barely pays the bills and that's for a person who lives very conservative, doesn't own fancy cars, no toys, and still stresses on how they'll ever retire at all. In reality as of today you need to be make at least $140K a year as a single bread winner in California. Anything else is just surviving, not living and you can kiss off retirement until age 62 to 65 IF social security is their to save your buns.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all these comments but as the original post said, you are confusing what is happening at the lab with what is happening in the US/Cali as a whole. Of course everyone needs to be paid more to live well in California, but the point is that the lab pays as well as anywhere else, if not better for many positions. If that wasn't true, why don't you go and work where the pay is better?? It's called free market capitalism! Either you're worth more, or you're not. Either you can afford to live in Cali, or you can't. Companies need to retain people as much as people need jobs and they will try to pay the market wage - apart from LLNL which has had a policy of constantly increasing people's wages and never reducing them. I challenge everyone to determine their market value and leave for another job if you don't think you're being paid the right amount.

Anonymous said...

One thing I think is just wasteful venting is all this bravado about "not pushing back on DOE requirements." The lat time I checked, these policies are not created here at LSO. They're created at Headquarters for the entire complex, of which we are only one player. The Lab has done what it can to try and shape those requirements, but it's ability to do so is limited and it's not like we get to say "No." These requirements are part of our contract and many migrate into federal law (i.e., CFRs). That means, stupid or not, they're not optional.

Anonymous said...

Salaries for Comp people were not in line with industry - thanks to the ranking system lumping them in with lower-paid scientists.

Does not matter much anyway, packages the last few years were below cost of living increases. Working for the lab means you are losing money unless you are ULM.

DOE/NNSA/ULM never have figured out that people worked at LLNL for the love of the job. Now that's been taken away. Lousy wages, incompetent leadership, security clearance rules intruding on you and family's privacy were tolerable as long as you could love what you did and felt like it made a difference. Now no-one would ever want to work here if given all the facts and an opportunity elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I too disagree with the idea of non-degreed support labor being over paid. When I decided to jump ship, I was immediately offered (and accepted) a position making 12% more than the Lab paid me. I could have even made more if I had held out a little, but was more interested in leaving ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Hey 9:11 AM

Sure we can say NO... since you sound like a DOE/NNSA type, I'll assume that you've never taken a business law class, otherwise you might know about contract law. The problem is not your regulations/orders its how DOE (local and HQ) interrupt the requirements. Also you have a way of turning non-mandatory guidance on the requirement into the requirements.

If LLNS (or UC) were a real contractor, they would be able to negotiate the cost of complying with each and every DOE order placed into Contract 44 - instead of having to take these cost out of the Lab's base budget.

Yes we have to comply with the law (CFRs and CCRs) but anything special required by the customer (DOE-NNSA) above and beyond these should be customer contract cost passed on to the customer. Its like we're contracted to build a house and the owner keeps adding design change requirements without providing more money - you think the contractor is going to eat these cost? Think again in the real world.. oh yeah, you're a fed so you don't live in the real world.

Lastly, if you want to learn how to write contracts for successful national labs, look at NASA's JPL (Caltech) and DOD's Lincoln Lab (MIT)... also LBNL (UC), SLAC (Stanford), and ANL (Univ of Chicago) from within DOE are well run from a contracting standpoint. All these labs have one thing in common too - a single M&O contractor and not a dysfunctional fictitious shell company consortium at the helm.

Anonymous said...

"...not a dysfunctional fictitious shell company consortium at the helm."

Yes, LLNS has gotten the worst of two worlds. The Lab is spiralling down like a plane that's lost it's pilot, and no-one else on board has a clue how to pull-up the plane, no less how to land it.

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