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Layoffs Hit Argonne Lab

FEDERAL FUNDING: Budget uncertainty forces staff cuts, fiscal review

by Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay , Jeff Johnson
August 15, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 33

Credit: Argonne National Lab
Funding woes have led Argonne to cut staff.
Credit: Argonne National Lab
Funding woes have led Argonne to cut staff.

Anticipated future battles in Congress over the Department of Energy’s research funding levels have prompted one of the department’s oldest and largest laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory, to lay off 48 workers. The layoffs, in the offices of the director and laboratory operations, followed an assessment of the lab’s financial situation and R&D budget uncertainties, Director Eric D. Isaacs said in a memorandum to staff, released on Aug. 5.

“The ongoing national debate about America’s investment in scientific research has made us keenly aware of the need to achieve our mission more efficiently and to find ways to reduce spending wherever possible,” Isaacs said.

In addition to the 48 layoffs, 27 employees took voluntary buyouts earlier this year. Altogether, the 75 personnel cuts are expected to save the laboratory $13 million per year, he said, out of a $640 million annual budget.

The layoffs were “a difficult decision,” Isaacs stressed.

“By trimming our operations and refocusing on the bottom line, we are demonstrating our fiscal responsibility, improving the delivery and effectiveness of our mission support functions, and safeguarding the laboratory’s ability to do groundbreaking science in the months and years ahead,” Isaacs wrote in the memo.

In addition to the personnel cuts, Argonne has designed and implemented a “reorganization plan” to streamline operations and save money.

“To get this economy moving again and spur job creation, we must get federal spending under control at every level,” Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), a longtime advocate for the lab, tells C&EN. “At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the scientific investments that are responsible for America’s long-term economic competiveness.

“As Congress follows Argonne’s lead in reexamining its own budget,” says Biggert, a senior member of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee, “I plan to continue to prioritize key science and technology programs at places like Argonne that help grow our economy and create jobs.”



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