Facing federal funding cuts, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is bracing for layoffs and asking administrative workers to consider early retirement.
“We’re looking at about a $5 million to $6 million cut in the operations budget,” said lab spokesperson Ron Kolb. “Because labor costs represent 85 percent of the budget, this boils down to people.”
On Monday Lab Director David McGraw sent out a memo calling on volunteers to take early retirement. As of Monday, LBNL also began a hiring freeze and halted promotions.
Kolb said the lab hopes to find enough volunteers to limit layoffs to less than 20. However, he declined to disclose how many early retirements the lab was hoping to grant. Employees targeted for layoffs are scheduled to be notified by Sept. 15.
The lab, which employs about 5,000 people, relies on the Department of Energy for its funding. Although Congress has not set the DOE’s budget, Kolb said lab officials have been told to expect a roughly 10 percent cut. Two years ago, the lab received $54.5 million from the DOE, the highest allotment in its history, Kolb said.
LBNL works on a wide range of projects, with specialties in super computing, genome work, cancer research and nuclear physics.
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory does not anticipate facing any layoffs this year, said Anne Stark, lab spokesperson. She said that Livermore, which conducts weapons research, gets significant funding from the Department of Homeland Security as well as from the DOE.
Robert Clear, a part-time scientist at LBNL and city environmental commissioner, suspected that Livermore and Los Alamos, two other UC-run labs, wouldn’t face the same kind of cutbacks because, unlike LBNL, they do primarily classified work.
“Everything we do is public,” he said. “If the government wants something that’s private they can’t do it here.”
The cutbacks are targeted at the 515-person operations department that includes facilities maintenance, environmental safety oversight, human resources, and public affairs.
Under federal funding guidelines, the lab must use a defined portion of research money to pay for the support staff. As research money has dried up, so has available funding for the operations staff, according to Kolb.
Clear said the city should be concerned if LBNL is forced to cut back the 107-member Environmental Health and Safety Team.
“They’re the ones that monitor the lab and do the cleanup,” he said. LBNL is scheduled to remove contaminated soil from sections of its campus as demanded for years by city officials and residents.
Kolb said LBNL hasn’t faced an across-the-board staffing reduction since DOE budget cuts in 1995. The cuts have impacted scientists as well, he said. Recently 16 scientists working on a light source project agreed to take early retirement to minimize layoffs in the midst funding cuts.
The layoffs will depend on which project areas are in the highest demand, Kolb said. Within a specific project area, layoffs will be determined by seniority.
City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who retired from the lab three years ago, said staff morale seemed low during a visit last April.
“People were gloomy because DOE funding was down and it looked like it would be down for a number of years,” he said.