BNL: Staff cuts not related to Trump, 2018 cuts

Any volunteers: Brookhaven National Laboratory is hoping 175 employees will step up to be downsized.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The “voluntary force reduction” announced Tuesday by Brookhaven National Laboratory, which seeks to reduce the Upton lab’s workforce by roughly 6 percent, is not a reaction to President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 Department of Energy budget cuts.

And it’s nothing new: A similar volunteer employee-buyout action enacted in 2015 generated 80 responses, 70 of which were accepted by BNL.

Instead, the Self-Select Voluntary Separation Program – which invites eligible employees to apply for a customized severance package, including benefits, based on years of service – is a stab at fiscal conservancy that will ensure BNL’s top research priorities remain in the black.

So says laboratory spokesman Peter Genzer, manager of BNL’s Media & Communications Office, who noted the voluntary staff reduction – which aims to cull 175 support-level employees from BNL’s current professional staff of roughly 2,700 – “offers an opportunity for the laboratory to reduce its costs and redirect funding toward growth areas.”

“This workforce restructuring will ensure that the laboratory’s investment funds are fully aligned with the highest-priority elements of strategy through our strategic planning process,” Genzer said.

Peter Genzer: Focusing on priorities.

To the chagrin of several Long Island-based scientists and research institutions, Trump in April proposed a 2018 federal budget that takes a heavy ax to scientific research, including a $900 million shave for the Department of Energy, which bankrolls BNL and other national laboratories.

In July, the DOE released a 2018 budget proposal that decreases BNL funding by $111 million – and reduces laboratory staff by 23 percent.

Despite those draconian cuts, BNL – which received $537 million in DOE funding in 2016 – is sticking to its story that federal funding shortfalls are not behind the voluntary workforce reduction.

In April, Genzer told Innovate LI that there “[wasn’t] enough detail in the proposed budget blueprint to say specifically how it might impact Brookhaven Lab,” and in announcing the Self-Select Voluntary Separation Program this week, the lab – which also suffered significant budget cuts under President Barack Obama – reiterated that “the voluntary reduction is not related to the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget.”

The self-select program’s application window will be open from 8 a.m. Aug. 11 to 5 p.m. Aug. 24, according to BNL. If the laboratory doesn’t reach 175 volunteers during the two-week program, “we will need to consider additional actions, including involuntary separations,” Genzer said.