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Fermilab to Begin Furloughs

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BATAVIA, Ill., Jan. 25, 2008 -- With federal funding for high energy physics in the US unexpectedly reduced by $94 million for 2008, officials at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) said the lab may have to lay off about 10 percent of its work force next spring. The lab also announced this week that rolling furloughs will begin Feb. 1 for all of its nearly 2000 employees. Argonne National Laboratory said the budget shortfall has shut down its neutron-scattering facility and will mean job cuts.

Fermilab Director Pier Oddone and senior managers were to meet with all employees yesterday to discuss the mandatory unpaid time off. In a memo to employees Wednesday, Oddone outlined the rolling furlough policy, which will require hourly employees to take two days off without pay per month and salaried employees to take an unpaid week off every two months.

Oddone said in the memo that the unpaid time "is roughly equivalent to a one-month laboratory shutdown" and will allow the lab to continue work on its existing programs.

"Unpaid furloughs are an extreme and painful measure that we undertake because we must. We are making every effort to increase our funding levels. If funding improves, there is a possibility that the furloughs could be stopped before September 2008," he said.

Oddone said he is hoping some funding might be restored as part of a supplemental appropriations bill this spring.

The lab has also been forced to cancel research and development for experiments and technology it said are key to the future of particle physics, such as funding for the NOvA neutrino experiment and R&D funds for the International Linear Collider (ILC), a proposed electron-positron collider consisting of two linear accelerators that face each other.

ILC's goal is to complement the Large Hadron Collider, a proton-proton collider at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, in unlocking some of the deepest mysteries in the universe.

Funding for the ILC, which was to be built at Fermilab through an international collaboration, was cut 75 percent in the FY08 budget. Oddone said the lab remains "fully committed" to the Large Hadron Collider, which is scheduled to go online later this year.

NOvA is a collaboration of 181 scientists and engineers from 26 institutions to study neutrino oscillations using the existing NuMI (neutrinos at the main injector) beam at Fermilab. The NOvA experiment involves sending a beam of neutrinos produced at Fermilab near Chicago through the ground to a new underground facility in Ash River, Minn., for further study.

The project, now on hold, involves upgrading Fermilab's accelerator complex from 400 kW of beam power to 700 kW; placing a 222-metric-ton near detector in a new small underground cavern near the lab; and building a 15-metric-kiloton far detector in Ash River. Construction was expected to begin in April 2008 and to be complete in January 2013, with the first run lasting six years.

Oddone said funding for the Tevatron particle accelerator would not be reduced this year. The four-mile-long Tevatron is currently the most powerful particle accelerator in the world and is part of Fermilab's chain of accelerators.

The belt tightening at Fermilab comes after HR 2764, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, was passed by Congress in December and signed by President Bush, eliminated $94 million from the president's fiscal year 2008 budget request for high-energy physics within the Department of Energy's Office of Science. That resulted in a reduction of $52 million in what Fermilab expected to receive for FY08, Oddone said, a quarter of the way through the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.

The lab had anticipated receiving $372 million, an amount the president was requesting and Congress had essentially approved before the budget standoff, which centered around additional war funding. Non-defense related items were trimmed to accomodate $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the budget was officially signed by the president in late December, overall spending for high-energy particle physics had been slashed from the $782 million the president requested to $688 million. Fermilab's 2008 funding had been reduced from $372 million to about $320 million, Oddone said, a reduction of $22 million from what it received last year and $4 million less than it received in 2006.

Argonne, which employs 2900 at its site outside Chicago, announced in early January it would shut down its Intense Pulsed Neutron Source (IPNS), "one of the most productive neutron-scattering facilities in the world," and would have to scale back other operations at its Advanced Photon Source (APS) and High Energy Physics (HEP) Div. due to lack of funding.

In a memo to employees, Argonne Director Robert Rosner said that IPNS would be closed immediately and that decontamination and decommissioning procedures would begin.

"While we expected this to happen in the next few years, the suddenness of the directive from DoE is a consequence of the omnibus bill passed by Congress just before the holidays," Rosner said. "The actual impact on staffing is yet to be determined...but it is certain that there will be staff reductions in IPNS this year."

The extent of possible cutbacks at the APS, an x-ray light source, and the HEP Div. is not yet clear, Rosner said. He called the Argonne cutbacks "challenging" and suggested they could have a negative effect on the "morale of younger scientists and engineers who are our future in the international technology race."

Other consequences of the reduced appropriation include: The elimination of all 2008 funding for the ITER (International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor) project, which could mean layoffs of up to 40 workers at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, SRL and Los Alamos National Lab, and minimal staffing at the US ITER project office at ORNL; and delays of at least a year in completing instrument projects for the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL and the Linac Coherent Light Source Ultrafast Science at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Oddone said any layoffs at Fermilab wouldn't happen before April or May, because lab officials would need time to assess whether they are needed and would also have to give two months notice to employees.

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Jan 2008
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