Oak Ridge National Laboratory cuts jobs to prepare for budget cuts

Oak Ridge National Laboratory cuts jobs to prepare for budget cuts

September 28th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's main campus

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Regardless of whether the federal government shuts down or runs out of money next month, one of Tenessee's biggest federal facilities will be cutting its staff this fall.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is asking for voluntary retirements or resignations to cut up to 475 jobs by the end of the year at the Department of Energy complex, which currently employs about 4,500 workers. Although Congress is still debating the fiscal 2014 budget, ORNL Director Thom Mason said the staff cuts and other expense reductions in Oak Ridge are being proposed in anticipation of another cut of about $100 million in the lab's budget for the fiscal year that starts Tuesday.

ORNL's current budget is just under $1.5 billion, or about $100 million less than last year's operating budget for the lab.

"Due to the uncertainty of the upcoming budgets and the outlook for a budget reduction, we think the prudent thing to do is to get ready, rather than face a crisis or emergency," ORNL Communications Manager David Keim said.

The lab already has trimmed staff, pensions and other benefits. Those wishing to leave ORNL with extra severance will have until mid-November to apply and, if approved, those workers will leave by Dec. 31, Keim said.

Oak Ridge is one of 10 national labs run by Department of Energy's Office of Science, which this year received 5 percent less money from the automatic cuts triggered by the budget sequestration agreement reached two years ago. Those budget cuts will continue, barring an unexpected decision by Congress to reverse the cuts this fall.

DOE allocates more than $4.6 billion to its research labs in the Office of Science. DOE also operates a Y-12 uranium reprocessing plant and other faciltiies in Oak Ridge.

Keim stressed that DOE hasn't ordered any layoffs and the 475 job reductions are a maximum figure for the voluntary retirement program.

"We don't have a specific target [for job cuts] at this point," he said.

The Oak Ridge lab is operated by UT-Battelle under contract with DOE.

"We don't have a target. We're approved for up to 475 job reducitons

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a multipurpose facility that conducts research in materials science, advanced scientific computing, biofuels and nuclear engineering. The lab includes the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source, the High-Flux Isotope Reactor, and the Titan supercomputer, one of the fastest computers in the world.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 757-6340.