Fellow told the study committee that the attrition rate in recent years has been about 4 percent per year; a senior LLNL manager estimated that staff turnover peaked at about 5 percent per year after the contract transition and layoffs, and has now dropped. Meanwhile, the laboratories still seem to be successful in recruiting. The study committee was told that SNL hired on the order of 700 people in 2010 and that the LANL postdoctoral program, which is a primary tool for recruiting new S&Es, is at its largest ever. A LANL Fellow said that the quality of postdocs—as measured by publications and citations—has been increasing in recent years. A senior SNL person who is involved in recruiting provided an anecdote that, where the laboratories might have in the past received 40 applicants in response to a posting, now they might only hear from 10-12, many of who have some past connection to a national laboratory. But that staffer thinks part of the problem is the shrinkage in the U.S.-citizen pipeline. An LLNL manager who recruits primarily for computing expertise still has a success rate of about 80 percent, but it used to be 98 percent (although 80 percent is a more typical historical acceptance rate across the entire laboratory). Some noted competition in recent years from companies like Google, and others observed that the recent pay freeze has made it a bit harder to recruit new people. The study committee also expects that current economic conditions might discourage career changes, and that improving job prospects elsewhere could put pressures on recruitment of new staff and retention of experienced scientists and engineers.
Finding 2.1. The study committee found that the current M&O contracts for LLNL and LANL have significantly increased the cost of operating those laboratories. Specifically, they have added costs that have to be absorbed within the top-line laboratory budgets, thereby decreasing funds available to support science and engineering. However, the study committee has not found evidence that the management of the scientific enterprise has been biased in the pursuit of award fee. If the incentive fee becomes too high, or the criteria upon which the fee is measured discourage experimental science or innovation, however, the scientific enterprise at the laboratories could well deteriorate over time.
Changes associated with the new contracts at LANL and LLNL—including both uncertainties associated with the competition and actual changes in employment conditions and status (e.g., retirement and healthcare benefits)—have had negative effects on laboratory personnel, as has the LLNL reduction in force. While there is a widespread national trend toward less generous pension and healthcare benefits, laboratory personnel underwent an abrupt change in status from employees of the University of California to employees of LANS or LLNS, and the change in benefits was similarly abrupt. There is widespread perception among laboratory personnel that the new contracts are not to their benefit.7 On the other hand, the study committee found that the staff at LANL and LLNL, as well as SNL, remains highly motivated and enthusiastic about the S&E work at the laboratories.
Staff and management at all three of the laboratories expressed concern that, in their view, the managerial relationship between NNSA and the laboratories has lost the FFRDC/GOCO partnership character. They assert that it is now primarily a contractor relationship in which the government specifies tasks rather than making full use of the laboratories’ skills in directing and executing S&E. This is in contrast to NNSA’s statement that they manage with “eyes on and hands off.”
The Real Story” http://www.parrot-farm.net/lanl-the-real-story/), press articles (see “The Assault on Los Alamos National Laboratory: A drama in three acts,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by Hugh Gusterson at http://bos.sagepub.com/content/67/6/9.full, and “Analyst Sees Lasting Damage to Los Alamos, Livermore,” The Livermore Independent, by Jeff Garberson at http://www.independentnews.com/news/article_dcc64e10-1c8b-11e1-b5c0-001871e3ce6c.html), and statements to state and federal representatives and senators (see presentation by UPTE representative Jeff Colvin to the committee at http://www.upte.org/NAStestimony.pdf).
7 H. Gusterson, 2011, “The Assault on Los Alamos National Laboratory: A Drama in Three Acts,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, at http://bos.sagepub.com/content/67/6/9; J. Garberson, (2011, “Analyst Sees Lasting Damage To Los Alamos, Livermore Labs”; testimony in meetings at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore by staff and presentation by Jeff Colvin.