Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fermilab update: 200 employees to be laid off, rolling furloughs

Fermilab director Pier Oddone announced that the laboratory would be reducing staff by 200 full-time employees, about 10 percent of the workforce. Additionally, the lab would have a 2-day rolling furlough each month starting in February.

It would take several weeks to work out the details about layoffs, Oddone said, and would provide two-months notice to employees. At the earliest, layoffs wouldn't go into effect until April or May 2008, Oddone said.

Oddone spoke about the lab's financial condition in Fiscal Year 2008 during an "all-hands meeting" with employees this morning.

You can listen to a mp3 recording of the meeting here. (Right click, "Save As")

Oddone said Fermilab had hoped for $372 million originally for the lab's budget, however, it is now expected that they would receive $320 million -- a $50 million cut.

More information: Federal budget impact on Fermilab and High Energy Physics
Google News: Fermilab

Disclosure: My father works at FermiLab as a full-time employee. Additionally, I've received scholarship money during my undergraduate years at UIUC from FermiLab.


Anonymous,  1:26 PM  

Fermilab is where taxpayers money should go. The U.S.A. is going in the wrong direction. I hope we can find a way to cough up the 50 million. Other countries would love to have America's best of the best. Patrick McDonough

Bill Baar 3:26 PM  

I think Pier Oddone needs to explain why being first here is so important to American Taxpayers,

In addition, Oddone said, he would have to lay off up to 300 employees permanently and possibly shut down the main Tevatron accelerator, sending home the entire laboratory staff, for up to six weeks. Such an interruption could thwart Fermilab's hopes to detect the Higgs boson, a key constituent of the universe that the facility is racing to discover before scientists in Europe do.

If NASA can cooperate and share with the Russians on the Space Lab, I have no idea why DOE should be in a race with Europeans for the Higgs boson.

Next, he should explain why, with all of the creative rocket-scientist-brain-power at the Lab, they haven’t the wits to ask enhanced lease authority from Congress like the Army has, and simply build some retail along rt25 to generate revenues.

Imagine how many jobs the rent from that outlet mall, or the auto mall at Orchard Road would have created had it been placed there.

Wouldn't that creative us of Government make more sense than, as Bill Foster has said of the Scientists seeking dollars for the ILC, "Give me $10B or give me death"

Let's quit bickering and start using our noggins for the common good.

BingMan27,  7:58 PM  

My beef with this problem is that Sen. Durbin or Bill Foster doesn't want to do anything about it. Listening to those two, you would think all that happens is the President writes the budget laws and Congress puts a rubber stamp on it. There seems to be no outcry about this, except from Jim Oberweis. He is the only one out of the candidates running for Fermilab's district that has called on the full funding. I thought this would be a bi-partisan issue and a major pro-Illinois issue.

Bill Baar 6:05 AM  

Foster, Laesch, and Oberweis (per you here) are all pandering to an electorate on a pork project they're trying to depict as important to the district.

I suspect it isn't.

The real pork project that's going to impact the 14th for years to come, and leave it transformed, is the Prairie State Parkway.

Lauzen interestingly called it Hastert's earmark. Lauzen is the only guy as far as I can google, who has a position on it,

Now we face the decision, "How should we spend $207M that has been earmarked by Congressman Hastert in the federal transportation budget for the 'north-south connector between Routes 88 and 80'?" When I asked an IDOT engineer in a public meeting recently whether Rt. 47 qualifies as a connector, he simply replied, "Yes".

My recommendation is that we should support a plan that proponents call "47-Plus". Instead of spending $207M currently budgeted on a 5-mile stretch of parkway road with additional preparatory work north of that, we should fund work on a whole local road network that will reduce traffic congestion.

I don't know what's to be gained racing the Europeans for the Higgs Boson.

I suspect those 300 folks (are those slots filled with bodies by the way?) will land on there feet. I knew the Director of the Depot at Hines back in the 90s when Clinton shut that Federal warehouse down in favor of just-on-time-delivery. The blue collar guys with portable skills quickly used their retention rights to move their households to jobs in retirment areas. They all landed on their feet.

Foster, Laesch, and Oberweis just seem to be screaming about a non issue. Lauzen quiet (as far as I can tell) and I think that's probably the wisest stand, and instead talking about the pork-barrel project that's really going to change our lives, for better-or-worse, out here.

JB Powers 9:55 AM  


I disagree with Fermilab being "pork". Fermilab provides basic research that would not otherwise be completed without subsidy.

Many R&D functions are well-suited for the private sector (pharma, ag, info tech), but the building blocks of science are hard to capture by a single company/investor.

Yes, the operation is probably not being run very sensibly (no retail etc) as you mention, but that is managable with reform, not by shutting the facility.

This is one place where government investment is actually an investment rather than "bridge to nowhere" type spending. I think our Senators should go to bat for Fermilab.


Bill Baar 12:51 PM  

Laesch described it this way,

We can empower other lawmakers to join us in our fight to build a civilized society by pledging to fund education, healthcare and science instead of war.

Democrats think beating the Europeans for the Higgs Boson is of greater importance then beating AQ and defending our allies in Iraq; it's a trade off and we have to pick.

I don't think that's the case.

In fact I don't want to beat the Europeans for the Higgs Bosen.

Like NATO, I want to share with allies.

I want Scientific cooperation instead of competition. Especially when billions of US dollars invested.

I want Fermi lab to get a little creative about using our assets.

...because we are indeed at war, and Fermi lab has a role in it to play I bet.

I just don't like getting congronted with give me $10 billion or else, as Foster described the play.

It's almost unpatriotic in wartime.

JB Powers 2:02 PM  

Amen Bill, but I don't think our representatives are smart enough to see what is at stake here.

They see some grouchy scientists playing chicken with them, and will gladly sacrifice 200 Fermilab employee votes to buy votes elsewhere more cheaply.

Actual leadership in science and technology is not on the agenda for Obama, Durbin etc, they have voters to pander to.


snidely whiplash,  6:31 PM  

As a local matter, I'm more concerned with the loss of several hundred more jobs. This state is leaking jobs like a faucet Blago is supposed to fix. I hope they're making lots of guvmint cheese ...

Anonymous,  8:27 PM  

I know that this is a bit off-topic (I hope), but still relevant because both scenarios are grounded in our Country's capabilities and its position in the world.

While we're struggling with "funding" issues such as those that are negatively impacting the research taking place at Fermilab, we're also pawning off other bits of our knowledge, trade secrets, and other competitive advantages in industries across the board to the rest of the world under the guize of continued "free trade". (And I have to confess that I thought I'd NEVER hear myself argue against free trade...ever.)

It's a sad day when, for example, we have the Brits selling the US half-baked IT methodologies like "ITIL", claiming that we do not know how to run and manage our IT operations (and claiming that there's something wrong with us because we won't crumble and adopt just as the rest of the world have), when WE originally developed, implemented, and continue to follow PROVEN methodologies to keep our businesses running smoothly and cost-effectively.

The difference is that at one time, said knowledge and "know-how" was considered proprietary and was closely GUARDED and protected as a competitive advantage FROM the rest of the world to ensure OUR continued viability. (Hence, the reason why other country's attempts are still half-baked.)

Today, we seem to have no qualms about giving that knowledge away to others simply to gain a few additional points in our bottom line through ridiculous cuts like those Fermilab are experiencing, off-shoring, and taking the bait to "help" other countries improve their half-baked methods by showing them "how it should be done".

We've even removed the question "US citizen?" from our Visitor sign-in sheets across the country because, I'd imagine, it's so politically incorrect and rude to worry about things like that in this brave new world of ours.

I hope the folks at Fermilab find the strength and courage to fight to hang onto their jobs, their income, their lifestyles, AND their continued ability to contribute to OUR Nation's well-being.

ALL of us should be out there with them, supporting them in any way we can, simply because enough is enough.

District 14 voter,  9:02 PM  


Re: The Prairie Parkway -

Please google John Laesch and Prairie Parkway - I think you'll find he has spoken out emphatically on this. He attended grass roots meetings opposing it in '06, and even had many rural-Kane voters - hard R's - with his signs in his yard due to his support. I know one of them personally.

It's disappointing you didn't put much effort in your search.

Anonymous,  9:22 PM  

I think it's interesting that there seem to be two positions on this argument: funding for the war v. funding for R&D. (Nice job Democrats and shame on any Republican who would fall for that old game.)

Bottom line is that we can't afford to lose in either case.

Perhaps the Dems should revisit programs like healthcare, pre-K programs, etc. for everyone.

BingMan27,  10:44 PM  


I think you are a little mistaken. Fermilab isn't all about discovering the Higgs boson first. I mean, they are, but they are also involved in an important GLOBAL cooperation regarding the ILC. And they are a major player for radiation therapy for cancer treatment.

There is a lot that Fermilab provides. And it's sad that the Democrats think it's easy to frame it as a war vs. science debate, when we are comparing tens of billions of dollars for the war and just $62 million more for Fermilab. That's hardly a drop in the bucket when dealing with a multi-trillion dollar budget.

So I don't really think it is accurate to call it pork when it is part of: 1. Global cooperation through science. 2. Cancer treatment and 3. JOBS!!!

Bill Baar 6:29 AM  

D14, Send me the links on Laesch and the parkway.

I'll try a do a seperate post on the parkway because I think it's that important to use out here.

I apoligize for not doing an exhaustive search on them.. I just did quick glances on the sites and it slipped past me.

Sorry to the Laesch supporters...

Anonymous,  10:06 AM  

If it's so GLOBAL, then perhaps we should be looking to the rest of the world to pay their FAIR share of the bill. (Wasn't that an issue not too long ago at either the UN or NATO? You know, what the US's "fair share" should be because we have so much money?)

Bill's right. If it's a shared program, why should we be first and why shouldn't everyone else pay?

Anonymous,  10:17 AM  

Bill (I think it was Bill) was also right when he made one of his earlier comments regarding the perception of this debate leaning toward unpatriotic. There is no "drop in the bucket" even when it's "just $62 million" compared to tens of billions of dollars when it comes to our troops.

Besides, Fred Thompson's right when he quotes numbers regarding the GLOBAL war on terror.

Our allies are cutting back and leaving us with that bill as well. You'd think that with all the money their getting from US businesses in off-shoring and for infrastructure, they'd be a bit more generous and less dependent on us.

Anonymous,  10:40 AM  

Thanks, BTW guys, for all the great info. I haven't really researched this issue beyond what's been provided in the papers. It's been a long time since I've switched my position so dramatically on a particular topic--the whole "global" thing really is quite complicated, isn't it?

BTW, I don't think that Obama and Durbin are pandering on this issue; their positions seem very much aligned with Democratic principles within the context of the global village and what's expected of the US.

Bill Baar 10:42 AM  

It used to be during WWII, people would sing,

Use it up,
wear it out,
make it do,
or do without.

I don't think that frugal war-time spirit is showing up at Fermi Lab.

The should certainly be pressing for enhanced use authority out of Congress to start generating some revenue from that prime real estate they sit on.

Anonymous,  11:05 AM  

Well said, Bill! (Just as long as they don't sell it off to some other country.) Bravo!

Sam,  1:15 AM  


1. There isn't really "a race against the Europeans" to find the Higgs. The Higgs is the next anticipated discovery, and it would be a nice thing to find at the Tevatron.

You should note, though, that many of the CDF and D0 (the Tevatron experiments) collaborators are employed by European institutions, and Fermilab contributes to the LHC and to the CMS experiment. The whole field of particle physics is an international collaboration (and becoming even more so) - the only contest is for bragging rights!

The point, I think, is not so much to try and beat CERN to the Higgs as that it really doesn't make sense to spend lots of time and money building the most powerful machine on the planet, and then leave it gathering dust because you can't afford to run it, unless there's really no alternative.

The way that facilities have run to now has been that a host country (countries) have provided the facility. The US has Fermilab, Europe has CERN and Japan has KEK. If the ILC ever gets built, it will be too expensive for that model - there can be only one of it, and everyone will have to pay. "Everyone" in this context again means Europe, Japan and the US - nobody else has any money. Received wisdom says that the host country will be expected to pay for about half, and the other partners will share the other half.

2. I suspect those 300 folks (are those slots filled with bodies by the way?) will land on there feet.

Yes, of course they will - they're smart, capable people. The concern I have about 200 or 300 or whatever redundancies isn't that people will be starving in the street - whilst the people affected will have some short-term difficulties, they'll all find well-paid work fairly quickly - as that it means that 2 or 300 people are gone.

If the US wants to stop doing particle physics, that's fine - you can close the lab now, or run the current machines down to their natural end of life and close the lab then.

If the US wants to carry on doing particle physics (which is rather what things like the COMPETES act suggested that it did), it needs to keep hold of the expertise to build and run accelerators. One round of firings wouldn't be fatal, but would certainly eliminate some very valuable people, and impair the lab's ability to conduct its mission at a future date. A hypothetical second round of firings would probably kill off any hope of a sensible recovery.

This isn't Fermilab's research program - it's America's research program. If America would rather build bridges and cyclepaths, that's fine - America can make that choice. It should be aware, however, that if it says "no" now, it might not be able to say "yes" in the future.

It's as simple as that - do you want to do particle physics - yes or no? The current 20% cut comes close to doing irreversible damage. A more modest cut would delay NOvA's construction start till FY09, but keep the lab's capabilities intact.

Bill Baar 10:18 AM  

It's as simple as that - do you want to do particle physics - yes or no?

It would help if Oddone would make that case. He doesn't. It's the: people are going to be out on the street if.. case.

Oddone needs to explain how Fermi can and does generate some revenue. He needs to be a little creative instead of kicking a political football into the scrum in the 14th.

There are Scientific Industrial complexes, and Medical Indiustrial complexes just as powerfull as the Military Industrial complex.

More powerful I'd argue, and the Oddone should take us in the 14th as fools about his complex and politics.

Anonymous,  12:40 PM  

Bill's right about rising up to the challenge to "educate" everyone on this particular issue. If there's a benefit, the path of least resistance would seem to be to prove it (within the context of a limited budget that includes all of the sectors he referenced) and then share it with the public. The argument would also certainly have to consider the FACT that we are at war regardless of public sentiment re: same.

Fermilab will certainly have to come up with better arguments than "a nice thing to find at the Tevatron," "bragging rights" when it comes to a shared global program, and the promise of "world peace" through scientific global collaboration.

Furthermore, anyone who works with Europe on a daily basis knows that European programs still aren't as cost-effective as ours, primarily because of the "cultural" differences that Europeans still use to VERY vocally support the differences between our work ethic and theirs. I'd guess that because they're in even more dire straits than we are with regard to their economies, an aging population and their less flexible retirement views, they're very BIG on luring US businesses in under the guize of "cheap" highly-educated labor and very adept at soon increasing the number of workers "they need" two or three times over because of 1) they're half-baked methods, 2) desire and need to employ more people in their countries overall, and 3) the fact that they don't want to work as hard as Americans do--because of our "cultural differences". Plus, many European governments make it absolutely impossible for US companies to later shut down their operations when our profit margins dwindle because of their continued protectionist practices.

Anything "global" always winds up costing us more money, and I wish someone could prove otherwise. It'd make decisions pertaining to public policy such as this one pertaining to Fermilab and the need for billions in scientific research that SHOULD be shared easier for the average citizen to understand and therefore support.

Anonymous,  1:07 PM  

Even though it's obvious, I'll also add that the level of protectionism Europe practices usually results in lay-offs ocurring here v. over there, again biting into the tax dollars research facilities such as Fermilab need.

What a wicked web this global thing has become.

Bill Baar 12:39 PM  

Sorry for this tangled sentence,

More powerful I'd argue, and the Oddone should take us in the 14th as fools about his complex and politics.

I meant to write,

Oddone shouldn't take us in the 14th as fools about Fermi's Scientific Industrial complex and injecting it into politics.

As anon nicely wrote above, Oddone has a lot of work to do making a case, particularly when he sits on a plot of land developers have their eyes on, even in a slow market.

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