Saturday, April 30, 2005

Retirements Up Sharply at Los Alamos

Retirements Up Sharply at Los Alamos

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
Los Alamos National Laboratory is projecting a 50 percent increase in retirements this year as a higher than usual number of scientists and technicians close to retirement age opt for the security of their current pension plan rather than to wait and learn what the next lab manager has to offer.
As of Monday, nearly 2 percent of the laboratory work force, or about 146 workers, had completed its retirement paperwork. That figure is already more than half of the 251 workers who retired during all of last year.
LANL spokesman James Rickman said it is difficult to attribute any causes to the projected increase, but he did say feedback from workers preparing to retire suggests that their decision is at least partly in response to the uncertainty posed by LANL's pending contract competition.
Current LANL projections based on retirements thus far estimate that about 380 employees, or 4.6 percent of the 8,225-employee work force, will file for retirement by year's end, Rickman said.
He said LANL will have a more accurate projection by June, when the largest number of retirements normally occurs due to an annual cost-of-living adjustment that becomes effective that month.
For the past two years, the average annual work force retirement rate has been 3 percent, Rickman said.
After more than 60 years as LANL's manager, the University of California must now decide if it will compete to regain the weapons lab's contract. Then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in April 2003 his decision to put the LANL contract out for bid after a series of financial and security management problems.
The university's contract expires at the end of September, but so far, its Board of Regents hasn't made a decision about whether to compete for the contract, though spokesman Chris Harrington said the school is preparing as if it will.
He said a decision may come as early as the school's next regents meeting in May.
In March, Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., expressed their strong concerns that uncertainty from the competition process could provoke a "mass exodus" of LANL's most senior scientists who chose retirement to maintain their university benefits.
LANL employees are eligible for retirement beginning at age 50. Rickman said the average age of the entire work force is slightly more than 46 years old. Of the 3,361 LANL scientists, about 1,350, or 39 percent, are 50 years old or older, he said. Of the lab's technicians, about 630, or 34 percent, are 50 years old or older.

So, if you read the last paragraph on the statistics for the technical work force, after June, most of what will be left will be non-technical personnel. That will offer the opportunity to futher increase the overhead rates because we will not have to waste some much of the budget on those malcontent TSMs and TECs. Somehow, I am sure that Admiral Butthead will announce this as a success!
Rickman is as big a butt kisser as Stradling and lies as much as Nanos. The numbers are actually much higher than they are admitting. There is going to be a mass exodus in June.
How does the ol’ sayin’ go? Ya’ ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
This is pure “spin” by the so-called Public Affairs. First of all HR has projected the June figure as high as 1,000. I think this could even be low (my opinion). There are, most likely, many others (myself included) that will not use the COLA as the catalyst for a retirement decision but will wait as long as possible to see how things play out. So June numbers will only represent the first wave of, possibly, many more to follow. This RFP and responding proposals better be really, really great or there will be mass departures.
The REAL-STORY is that in the closed councils on the Fourth Floor of the soon-to-be demolished Admin Building (TA-3,SM-43)the soon-to-be demolished Seniro Executive Team is talking about June retirements as high as 2,500 barring any change or extension fo the existing contract. Don't let the spinmeisters tell you otherwise.
I also found the article about LANL retirements to be puzzling, since the "official" projections for retirements do not begin to match the reality of the number of upcoming retirements that I know are planned. I, for one, have already filed my retirement paperwork after 20+ years at the Lab. I want to once again feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the work-day instead of the continual and increasing daily frustration that accompanies trying to actually get real work done at LANL. The paperwork and layers of oversight that accompany even the smallest task consume days of time and acomplish nothing worthwhile. Hardly any of the new required paperwork makes me safer, enhances security, or improves the end product. It does add layers of approvals by people who truly have no idea what is required to accomplish the task they are approving and adds days or weeks to the time needed to correct the smallest problem. I have worked all my LANL career in critical classified activities and have never seen a single instance when security was not a primary concern of every person on my projects or when safety was not carefully considered before beginning a task. I am not saying that every single person at LANL makes security and safety a high priority; I am saying that in 20+ years I personally have never met anyone who didn't. The unwarranted shutdown and its continued negative impact on work and morale was the final straw for me. I want to accomplish something with my skills and training, not tread water, so I am moving on. While completing my exit briefings with HR, I was told by more than one HR person that I had to be sure and show up for my scheduled meetings because they had a "flood" of retirees and had no openings to reschedule meetings. Somehow the official 100+ retirees don't seem to constitute the flood that HR is coping with..... But since the "official" cost of the lab-wide shutdown doesn't seem to bear much relationship to the real cost, I guess LANL officials can choose their own reality in retiree figures too. I do wonder how they are going to manage the reality of meeting the Lab mission with a dramatically reduced LANL staff. I'm waiting eagerly to hear how they report the actual numbers of retirees in the next couple of months.
I believe LANL is trying to put up a brave front on a disaster that simply cannot be diverted with anthing other than giving the contract to UC without an industrial partner to take over the employee benefits. Since that seems highly unlikely at this point, I remind you of Nanos's quotes on LANL employees( approximately wording). Nanos said that if he had to restart LANL with 10 people, he would. He also would not allow a Feynman to work at LANL.
So, LANL and Nanos are putting forth a great front to cover the obvious mess they have sunken into. I have heard the 2,500 figure as well and I know for a fact many will wait until nearer the end of the contract to retire so they can a) finish a project they care about deeply. b) gain a little more retirement credit and c) still be on board if the contract is extended.
I find myself wondering if there will be anything worth saving once the contract change occurs.
To 4/30/2005 11:31:19 AM “I do wonder how they are going to manage the reality of meeting the Lab mission with a dramatically reduced LANL staff.”

Haven’t you heard? Nanos said they are going to hire 100 Post-Docs (uncleared no doubt).
The effects of a massive retirements are compounding. First, the institution loses a significant fraction of its total corporate knowledge. Say that 2,000 people leave with 25 years of experience, 50,000 person years represent a lot of experience walking out the door. Included in that number will be almost everyone who has felt the ground heave under their feet following a nuclear weapon explosion underground. Second, because of the time required to get employees vetted for their security clearances (now running up to two years in some cases but averaging over a year) the organization has no way of transferring that corporate knowledge to the next generation of employees. These employees will have to live on overhead or do meaningless work for that period. Third, the current policy advocated and implemented by Director Nanos will prevent retirees from being called back to work at the Laboratory to mentor and accomplish or close-out critical work. This process is sometimes called "corporate carcinoma" because productive cells leave faster that they can be replaced and remaining cells feed on resources without being productive enoungh to provide a net positive influence on the survival of the organism. This disease is sometimes caused by excessive draining of swamps.
Over 10% of the TSMs in my group have already retired. Others will most
definitely be leaving in June to catch the COLA. Younger staff are also
leaving for jobs outside of LANL. The figures quoted by Rickman are
a complete fantasy. The final numbers will be much, much higher. In
fact, I'm starting to hear worries from project managers who are now
wondering how they will cope with the significant loss of staff.
Wow. 1000's of government workers threaten to quit 'work'. How will I sleep at night? How will we know when they actually quit?
To 5/1/2005 05:55:17 AM: You will know, believe me, you will know.

It is sort of like when the air traffic controllers could never be replaced. Oops.
To the poster at 5:55pm --

How will you know? When a nuke goes off in NYC or downtown DC, because
we have lost our ability in science to detect and disarm this nightmare.
Sweet dreams, my friend. Your world may one day come to a sudden and
frightful end. The elimination of places of higher science like
Los Alamos will only bring this nightmare closer to reality.
Perhaps the 5:55 poster should take a gander at this article --

Los Alamos Muon Detector Could Thwart Nuclear Smugglers - Science Daily

Comparing the highly educated staff at Los Alamos to air controllers is
ludicrious. I have nothing against air traffic controllers, but show me
one who could develope a system like this one to help protect our borders.
It is indeed silly to compare the
air-traffic controllers with
people with Ph.d's in physics.
Lets face it you can replace
air-traffic controllers pretty fast.
I like them I fly all the time. But
come on. Right now in the US far less than
half the Ph.d in physics, eng and math
are being given to US citizens. The
numbers are going to continue to drop.
Additionly universities are starting to
hire more people. You just cannot get
the people to LANL. It is not going to

I am asking over and over who is going
to replace us. Plese somone tell me?
We are having a hard time getting people
in our divsion. It is going to get
worse. We simply do not know where to
get them.
3:45, it sounds like you are doing some serious stressing above yur pay grade.

So you and others are not replaced, then what? So you have a PhD in physics, who besides you, cares?

Sounds like fewer and fewer people in the US are interested in studying engineering and science. So what?

Since you are so stressed, let me suggest that you start searching through all the resumes of those scientists and engineers that were laid off in the defense industry back in the late 80's and early 90's when the Cold War ended. I imagine there are some with PhDs in Physics in there somewhere. Unless of course they have moved on to other things.
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