November 14, 2007

Nuclear Weapons Lab to Slash 500 Jobs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - One of the nation's premier nuclear weapons labs plans to cut about 500 jobs because of rising costs stemming from a changeover in management and potential federal budget cuts.

Layoffs at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will mostly affect support and operations employees, spokeswoman Susan Houghton said Tuesday. She said the laboratory would try to protect scientific research positions, but added that it's not known whether scientists would be laid off.

Lawrence Livermore, part of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, has about 8,000 employees. A $300 million budget shortfall is prompting the layoffs.

The shortfall emerged after the laboratory, located about 50 miles east of San Francisco in Livermore, changed management in October.

A series of accounting, security and safety lapses prompted the federal government in 2003 to require competitive bidding for the management contracts for Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The University of California had long managed both labs without competitive bidding for the contracts.

The university eventually won back the contracts to manage Lawrence Livermore - awarded in May of this year - and Los Alamos - awarded in 2005 - in partnership with several engineering and nuclear specialist firms.

Lawrence Livermore's financial troubles stem from higher taxes and health care costs now that it's managed by a limited liability company rather than a nonprofit public entity, Houghton said. She added that those costs are expected to come down in the future.

Houghton said potential cuts in the Energy Department's 2008 budget stand to cut into the money awarded to the lab for nuclear weapons work and other programs.