Idaho National Laboratory could feel sting of sequester

Idaho StatesmanMarch 6, 2013 

Cuts of more than $19 million are expected at the Idaho National Laboratory as a result of the budget reductions that went into effect last Friday.

Up to 84 Idaho National Laboratory security workers could be laid off, a Department of Energy official in Idaho said Tuesday.

Cuts of $12 million to DOE contractors could force furloughs or layoffs for 155 more employees beginning April 1, a department official said in a letter to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter that was obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

"Certain impacts to the department's subcontractors in Idaho may be significant, but many are not included in this estimate," said Daniel Poneman, DOE deputy secretary.

INL's main contractor, Battelle Energy Alliance, is set to lose about $7 million, which would mean 80 employee layoffs or furloughs, Poneman said in the letter. INL contractors handle everything from nuclear cleanup and research to maintenance; no details were available on which contractors are most likely to be affected.

The safeguards and security program, which has 500 workers, is separate from other lab programs and falls under the defense budget, which takes a bigger hit under the sequestration cuts.

Otter will tour the lab, the biggest employer in eastern Idaho, on Wednesday. The lab opened in 1949; it conducts nuclear and energy research. It creates more than 24,000 Idaho jobs and generates $3.5 billion in economic impact, according to a 2010 report by Boise State University economists.

INL's workforce has dropped from the 8,000 government and contractor workers who were there in 2010. And the across-the-board federal cuts are expected to hit 225 separate budget line items, which limits managers' flexibility to protect programs or people.

The security cuts require INL officials to trim $6.7 million from a $93.3 million budget, said Brad Bugger, a DOE Idaho spokesman. The 2013 budget has not been approved, but the projected reductions would be about $8.3 million. Overall, the sequester requires $85 billion in cuts this year and $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

The INL staff cuts would come through layoffs and attrition in both physical and cybersecurity staffs, Bugger said. That could mean INL will no longer be able to support research and training activities using plutonium and uranium 233 for nonproliferation and emergency-response training, as well as other programs for the Department of Homeland Security nationwide.

The department's security program at INL includes the Cyber Analysis Center, where control systems are tested for vulnerabilities, a malware laboratory for analyzing threats, and a classified "watch and warning center" where data about threats are assessed and shared with other cybersecurity and intelligence offices.

Bugger said the cuts also could affect research agreements with universities, industries and international partners. The DOE will have to cut back on programs aimed at reducing inventories of nuclear materials and spent nuclear fuel.

"We will continue to investigate options to mitigate these impacts," Bugger said. "The department is making every effort possible to prevent severe impacts to the mission and layoffs for our workforce."

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