PNNL

Proposed budget could equal 1,000 jobs lost at PNNL

A preliminary analysis of the administration’s federal budget request concluded it would mean deep cuts at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, if enacted as proposed.
A preliminary analysis of the administration’s federal budget request concluded it would mean deep cuts at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, if enacted as proposed. Tri-City Herald file

The budget proposed by the administration of President Donald Trump for the next fiscal year would result in a loss of more than 1,000 jobs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, according to a preliminary analysis done by lab leadership.

They figure that the lab would receive roughly $190 million less than its current budget of about $950 million.

“These are sobering numbers and I know that they will cause concern. I share that concern,” said Steven Ashby, director of the lab, in a message to the approximately 4,200 people it employs.

Job losses under the proposed budget would include the scientists and engineers who receive funding for research projects, as well as the staff who support them and are paid with overhead funds.

But the budget proposal is just that, a budget proposal to Congress, which has the job of setting and approving federal spending.

Although we do not expect the deep cuts described … prudence demands that we plan for moderate cuts.

Steven Ashby, PNNL director

The current Congress has already shown it is capable of compromise as it passed a delayed budget for the current fiscal year, Ashby pointed out.

“Although we do not expect the deep cuts described … prudence demands that we plan for moderate cuts,” Ashby told staff.

The cuts outlined in the Trump administration proposal include an estimated $100 million less at PNNL for applied energy research. It would include some programs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and modernizing the nation’s electric grid.

The next biggest cut outlined, $80 million, would be in DOE Office of Science programs. The reduction could include climate science research done by PNNL staff and the facilities PNNL manages in Richland for use by researchers across the globe.

It manages two Office of Science “user” programs.

The Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory has advanced microscopes and other cutting-edge equipment for molecular-level science. The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility has ground and aerial instruments and testing facilities, including aircraft.

The remaining $10 million of the proposed cut would be in work funded by the Office of Science Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security.

If this comes to pass, it would be a loss of capability.

Steven Ashby, PNNL director

Shifting priorities and changes in administration have been usual over the more than 50 years that Battelle has operated PNNL for DOE.

The lab usually responds by shifting researchers and staff among projects.

“What’s different than previous years is the magnitude of the proposed cuts,” Ashby said. “If this comes to pass, it would be a loss of capability.”

The loss of scientific capabilities would occur not just at PNNL, but at other national labs, he said.

Much of what PNNL does results in advanced scientific discovery, economic competitiveness for the country and improved energy resiliency and national security, Ashby said.

The lab leadership is responding to the proposed cuts by keeping key supporters informed.

This week Ashby was asked for briefings by members of the Washington Congressional delegation and staff.

(The lab is) taking advantage of our current strong financial position to pay down several out-year obligations, especially with respect to facilities and equipment to create greater flexibility in FY18 and beyond.

Steven Ashby, PNNL director

“This demonstrates their keen interest in PNNL specifically and DOE generally,” Ashby said in the memo to staff.

PNNL also is reviewing staff paid by overhead funds rather than by research funds, and will review any hiring for those positions. Staff may be reassigned rather than new staff hired, he said.

The lab also is “taking advantage of our current strong financial position to pay down several out-year obligations, especially with respect to facilities and equipment to create greater flexibility in FY18 (fiscal year 2018) and beyond,” Ashby told staff.

The new energy secretary, Rick Perry, has been extraordinarily supportive of DOE’s national labs, Ashby said. He already has visited the national labs in Idaho, Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The staff at PNNL is eager to show him the capabilities and research being done at the Richland-based lab, Ashby said.

“The main thing is to recognize that this is early in the process,” he said.

“This lab has had a huge impact for more than five decades and I am confident we will continue to make contributions that are important to this country,” he said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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