There has been strong interest in a voluntary separation program that could reduce the workforce at Oak Ridge National Laboratory by up to 350 positions, but the lab still has to review applications and finalize who qualifies, a spokesperson said Wednesday, the deadline to apply.
The laboratory is still in the middle of reviewing the applications and determining who qualifies, said Morgan McCorkle, ORNL communications media manager.
The workforce could be reduced by up to 350 positions through both voluntary and involuntary separations.
“We still expect to use both mechanisms,” McCorkle said.
The 350-position reduction would decrease the workforce of 4,800 employees by about 7.3 percent. The workforce reduction, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, was announced by ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia in an August 8 email to employees.
“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,” Zacharia said in that email.
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that the workforce reduction could save $34 million per year in personnel costs, and the lab expected most of those who apply for voluntary separations to be of retirement age.
ORNL employees have been able to apply for the Self-Select Voluntary Separation Program, or VSP, from Monday, August 14, to Wednesday, September 27.
In August, McCorkle said the lab plans to reduce about 250 overhead positions and 100 research and development jobs. Overhead jobs are those not directly related to research. The research and development staff who will be eligible for voluntary separations are those who charge more than half of their time to overhead accounts or whose program budgets were reduced in fiscal year 2017, McCorkle said.
The voluntary separations and the involuntary separations, if necessary, will both give employees standard severance benefits of one week’s pay for each year’s service for up to 25 years (or based on contract terms for members of the bargaining unit).
ORNL has previously said that the workforce reductions are not related to the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1. The lab expects to evaluate the effects of future funding once the fiscal year 2018 budgets are complete.
ORNL, the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest multiprogram science and energy laboratory, is an Office of Science lab. The Trump administration has requested a cut of about $900 million in funding in fiscal year 2018 for DOE’s Office of Science, among other reductions that could affect the lab. But a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill recommended keeping funding flat for the Office of Science, and a Senate appropriations bill requested an increase in funding for the Office of Science. There hasn’t been a final agreement yet on funding for fiscal year 2018.
Zacharia’s email to staff in August said the staff reductions this calendar year would allow ORNL to maintain “competitive chargeout rates”—that’s a rate that DOE uses to measure cost effectiveness—and free resources for “discretionary investments that will modernize lab infrastructure and maintain core research capabilities in the mission areas assigned to ORNL.”
ORNL has said it plans to make investments “that are aligned with DOE mission priorities.” Those areas include cybersecurity and high-performance computing.
In August, Zacharia said DOE had approved the workforce restructuring plan. It was proposed by UT-Battelle, which manages ORNL for the DOE Office of Science. Employees who are accepted for the voluntary separation program will leave the payroll by December 31.
Zacharia said ORNL has worked to control business costs in order to be a good steward of taxpayer funding, to maximize the resources available for strategic investment, and to keep lab costs competitive with ORNL peers.
“We’ve controlled chargeout rates, consolidated operations, and contained health-care costs,” Zacharia said in his August 8 email. “We’ve also increased investment in lab-directed research and development, expanded key programs, and continued modernizing the campus.”
It may not be ORNL’s largest workforce reduction in recent years. In February 2011, ORNL announced a voluntary separation package, and 161 applications were accepted. Later that same year, 220 applications were accepted. That’s a total of 381 voluntary separations in 2011.
There was another voluntary separation program that was announced in September 2013 that reduced staff by 189.
A workforce reduction was also announced in August for Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York. At that time, Brookhaven planned to reduce its workforce by 6.5 percent, or 175 jobs, over the next few months, according to media reports in New York and Connecticut. Those buyouts were primarily being offered to support staff, and they were expected to help the lab reduce its costs and redirect funding toward growth areas, according to Newsday in Melville, New York.
BNL has about 2,700 employees. The lab said its workforce reduction was also not related to President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which would cut the lab’s funding.
Newsday said the Brookhaven workforce has been reduced a couple of times in recent years, including through buyouts in 2015. Much of BNL’s funding comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The lab is run by Brookhaven Science Associates, a partnership of Stony Brook University and the nonprofit science organization Battelle.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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