Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Forecast for LANL...

Submitted by Anonymous:

Here's my attempt at a forecast for LANL...

Change will occur gradually. Over the next 5 years, the ratio
of science vs. production work won't change by a huge amount.
The biggest concerns will be driven by a lack of lab funding
due to Congress/DOE and the increasing costs caused by LANL's
"for-profit" contract, GRT, transition costs, and the need
for hefty contributions to our retirement fund. Lack of funds
will likely increase over the next 5 years, thus raising the
level of worker anxiety. Be prepared to deal with the funding
anxiety. If this bothers you and you can find a more secure
place to work, then perhaps it's time to think about leaving.
Conversely, you could just hang around and wait until you got
hit by a RIF and then look elsewhere. I suspect most people
will take this second option, but it largely depends on how
you feel about working at a facility in which staff morale is
very low. If we have funding shortfalls, the morale will not
be improving. In fact, it will probably get much worse.

As far as your LANL paycheck goes, be prepared to start forking
over some cash to help keep the new TCP1 pension afloat. DOE
says that any necessary contributions to beef up the new pension
will come out of LANL's budget. However, I suspect that LANS
will eventually pass these costs on to workers by taking a chunk
out of each paycheck. Be prepared to see a sizable chunk of
cash taken from your bi-weekly earnings. The UCRP pension has
already experienced a rapid draw-down of funds. In 2002, it
was over-funded at the rate of about 138%. Last year, it was
over-funded by only about 108%. That's a drop of about 10% per
year over each of the last 4 years! The LANS TCP1 pension is
expected to start out its first year under-funded with only
around 95% of the required funds on hand (depending on how
generous UC decides to be with our current UCRP assets).

Increases in health care costs, along with contributions to
the LANS pension will mean you shouldn't expect to see your
take-home pay increase by much over the next few years. You'll
be doing good if you can keep up with inflation. If you can
find a better deal outside of LANL, then perhaps you'll want
to move to greener pastures. Younger workers will find this
a much easier choice to make, while those in the 45+ age group
with a significant number of years at LANL will be more inclined
to stay around and try to collect on their future pension.

We hired a lot of young TSMs in the 1999-2003 period, and many
of them will now decide to move on. I left my first employer
after about 6 years on the job. It's common to at least make
one job change during your career, and that frequently occurs
during the first 10 years of your job life. After this initial
10 year period has past, bigger responsibilities begin to intrude
(ie, older kids, stronger connections to a community, etc), and
it becomes much harder to leave. For younger staff hired during
the 1999-2003 Boom-Times, this "jumping-off" point it about
to approach. The really good ones who have great scientific
skills will be the ones who are most likely to leave, as they
have other job options.

Going out 10 years, the changes will be much more dramatic.
Regardless of what DOE may say, it's clear to me that LANL
is going to see significantly more production work in the
future. In fact, production work will probably be better
funded than most scientific research. This means you'll see
greater job security in positions like plutonium technician
and health & safety positions. Of course, there will also
be job security in most of the management positions. Many
TSMs are going to find "the going gets rough". Also, many
of our future managers will begin to see that they have a
brighter future as managers on the production side, rather
than the scientific side. This will influence our management,
so that future preferences of most LANL managers will lean
heavily toward favoring production type work. Ten years out,
I expect that the ratio of science vs. production will shift
toward greater emphasis on production. Managers know all
too well who "butters their bread", and will act accordingly.

As far as weapons research goes, I would be concerned if you
work in this area. DOE has already given clear warning that
weapons research funding will, at best, remain static. If
you think that RRW work is going to save the weapons budget,
dream on. It will not. RRW won't be a significant part of
the lab's budget for many years. Congress knows we have lots
of spare nukes, and they've come to the logical conclusion
that at least some of the nukes in our huge arsenal will
work if we ever need to use them. RRW won't be a significant
part of the NNSA budget until the present stockpile is much
older -- perhaps in about 15 to 20 years. By 2025, Congress
will finally start to get concerned over the thought that
they might need to fight a war with nukes that are at least
35 years in age. Till then, Congress has more pressing needs
in terms of Federal spending. After all, the leading edge
of the baby-boomers just turned 60, and we are about to see
a vicious ramp-up in entitlement costs over the next 30 years.
Who do you thing will have a stronger voice in making a case
for Federal dollars over the next 30 years -- weapons R&D
workers, or older citizens who demand the entitlements that
have been promised to them for many years? It's not even close.

The biggest increase in funding 5 and 10 years out will come
from production work that takes place at the plutonium facility.
LANL will become the defacto site for all feature pit work.
There will be some increase funding for doing Threat Reduction
work, but it won't be enough to make up for future shortfalls
in the weapons research budget. WFO's used to be about 20% of
the lab's budget. Increasingly high overhead costs will mean
that WFO's will also be a declining portion of LANL's future
budget. Outside sponsors don't have unlimited funds, even
if they sometimes need the specialized expertise that comes
from a National Lab.

That's my forecast. It's not very optimistic, and some of it
contains views that DOE and upper management won't tell you,
but I think it's realistic. Some may have different views.
I'd love to hear them. What ever happens, don't let life
at LANL make you miserable. If your at that point and have
other options, then it's definitely time to move on. Life
is short -- try to enjoy it while you can.

This is a very thoughtfull analysis. I will risk myself being called polyanna and offer the following addendum. This may be an accurate view of the downside of the transition, but is it equivalent to predicting the future of IBM in 1970 based on its typewriter business? Or buggy-whip companies in 1918? LANL was born in a caldron of national security crisis and scientific and technical challenge. Looking to the old needs and crises to completely predict the future is a disservice. The lab needs to learn to be adaptable and enteprenurial to serve evolving national needs with cutting edge science. These needs may not be the traditional ones.
"The lab needs to learn to be adaptable and entrepreneurial to serve evolving national needs with cutting edge science. These needs may not be the traditional ones." This may be true and if this be the case would you please outline what our national needs are so that we can determine what classifications of people we need to hire or fire. As it looks for now or at least for the next ten or twenty years LANL will become a pit manufacturing facility where cutting edge science is no longer needed, but machine tool operators are. I say bail, and bail now. Find something of interest that you will look forward to coming to work for. Come to the realizations that your usefulness has expired and that it is time to seek what you have earned. Your focal point for now should be on how to convince the UC Regents that your entitlement of being retired on the primary UCRP is non negotiable. For those of you that can not retire and are unhappy with your work at LANL, you should take you money and run only to seek employment elsewhere immediately.
The above analysis is spectacularly level-headed and realistic--at this point in time. There is, however, one major crisis that is looming: the energy bubble. Even our President, who is famous for living in a DC bubble, is visiting the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and talking for the first time in his Presidency about our "addiction to oil." This is a remarkable event, in my opinion. Never before have the Power Elite budged from Cheney's famous statement a few years ago that "energy conservation is just a life-style choice." He knows, even if Bush is only dimly aware, that Peak Oil is only plus-or-minus one year away. Even our own Lab managers are sending around memos about our need to wear sweaters in winter and shorts in summer. These guys may have made a hash of everything they have ever touched, but they know full well that troubled times are ahead.

In the event of global warming catastrophes (not just hurricanes, but even more serious--crop failures), and given the "stellar," "world-class" performance of our crisis managers at FEMA and Homeland Security, we need not even imagine something like a bird-flu pandemic, in order to see where high-performance computing and modeling might be provided by a national scientific laboratory. -Notice that I did not say anything about the utility of being able to produce 40 more Pu pits per year.

If the nation defines "national security" to the fullest extent, LANL may be called on for some serious help. We cannot possibly make a safe landing in the bumpy future without some help from scientists at places like LANL. It ain't just about bombs.
Ahhh, Brad? Better check out this story before you get too

Bush Blames Cuts at Energy Lab on Mix-Up - AP News Feb 21, '06

GOLDEN, Colo. Feb 21, 2006 (AP)— President Bush on Tuesday
acknowledged that Washington has sent "mixed signals" to
one of the nation's premiere labs studying renewable energies
by first laying off, then reinstating, 32 workers just before
his visit.

Funds for renewable energy research are being CUT by the
President, not increased. I agree, it's refreshing to
hear the President get excited about renewable energy.
However, it's mostly just PR to bring up his horrible poll
ratings. Don't believe for a minute that he's actually
serious about it. If he was, then his State of the Union
address would have mandated "Flexible Fuel Vehicles" (FFV)
on all US cars so they could burn 85 % Ethanol (E85). It
costs only $200 to add this capability to a vehicle. Why
didn't he do it? Because the oil lobby doesn't want it.

BTW, did you know that in Brazil most cars burn a 50/50 blend
of gasoline and ethanol made from sugarcane. Brazil is
oil poor. If they can do this, why can't we?
Don't think me overly optimistic about the "dimly aware" occupant of the White House; he is only parroting (sorry, Doug) what his handlers tell him. What I am most intrigued by, is that his handlers are beginning to panic. The beginning of the act of panicking is the hopeful sign. These guys will not lead the Revolution from within the Republican Party, but something may well be brewing at the Higher Levels of Power in our less-than-democracy.

If we at Los Alamos push back from the pressure to make the Lab a Pu pit production factory, and we do it with force and innovative ideas, there may...just may...arise a newly perceived need for our scientific expertise.

Now that the full impact of privatization has hit, and we see that the Lab will no longer have world-class benefits and retirement to offer new, bright, young people, maybe--just maybe--we can offer them some important new challenges to work on, and not just in the area of nuclear weapons. (Being an old guy in the area of basic research for weapons physics, I will, of course, pursue those topics as long as they are exciting, but then also keep my eyes on more distant prizes.)

I think that this is a pretty clear assessment of LANL at the moment. I am sorry to see it go that way, but I really dont see much of a future with both politics and government debt.
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