Tennessee-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is going through the process of adding to the total U.S. research lab layoffs, as the science and technology national laboratory, by cutting roughly 100 jobs through ORNL’s involuntary separation program. This round of ORNL layoffs will be narrowed down in the comparing weeks and employees affected by the Tennessee layoffs should be made aware of their employment status by mid-February. The U.S. research lab layoffs are a part of ORNL’s restructuring plan, though earlier plans used ORNL’s voluntary separation program, as opposed to the involuntary one.
“The effects of the reductions will vary by organization, and we should use this time to focus on what is essential in our particular areas of responsibility,” said ORNL director Thomas Zacharia said about the ORNL job cuts. “We will have missed our goal if we simply shift existing work onto fewer people or if our researchers end up with less time to pursue their science and development efforts.”
ORNL’s Restructuring Plan Included Voluntary & Involuntary Layoffs in 2017
There were numerous ORNL layoffs in 2017. In August, the company laid out plans to eliminate 350 jobs by the end of the year as part of an effort to streamline operations in order to reduce costs and redirect funding to areas of growth.
One instance of these U.S. research lab layoffs involved 13 employees at ORNL’s Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate being let go in mid-June. Interestingly, one of the individuals let go was told it was part of the aforementioned streamlining efforts, but the documents related to her termination cited a lack of funding, which it receives from several government sectors, the majority of which fall under the U.S. Department of Energy.
While ORNL’s voluntary separation program was in effect, 302 staff members applied, with 204 being accepted. A second round of reviews to minimize involuntary layoffs followed, with 28 more people being approved at year’s end.
Trump’s DoE Budget Cuts Can Be the Reason for the Layoffs
One possible reason cited for the ORNL layoffs is a budget request from President Donald Trump. Approximately 1,600 of the 4,800 people employed by ORNL though contractor UT-Battelle could become unemployed as a result of the 17% budget cut to the Department of Energy Office of Science proposed in Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget requests.
The operations of ORNL itself would also be impacted by the proposed U.S. Department of Energy budget cuts for 2018, specifically the run times at its Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor. These both experience heavy global demand, with one in three researchers that request time at these locations actually getting it. In fact, ORNL was in the middle of a Department of Energy review to determine if the Spallation Neutron Source could be upgraded to meet this demand when word of the president’s budget requests came in in June 2017.
“ORNL begins layoffs of 100 positions following voluntary reduction,” WBIR-TV, January 9, 2018.
“ORNL to lay off 100 workers as part of workforce restructuring plan,” WATE, January 9, 2018.
“ORNL lays off 13 employees,” Lohud, August 13, 2018.
“Oak Ridge National Laboratory plans to cut 350 positions by the end of 2017,” WATE, August 8, 2017.
“Oak Ridge National Laboratory could face massive layoffs under Trump budget request,” Knox News, August 17, 2017.
“Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation For American Greatness-Fiscal Year 2018,” The White House, August 2, 2017.