ORNL Director’s Year-End Message to Staff

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason’s sent a message to staff as Fiscal Year 2010 comes to a close, a year that he termed “pretty remarkable.”

ORNL_Main_EntranceFrom Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason:

We are in the process of closing out what has been a pretty remarkable year, which I summarized with ORNL managers last Tuesday in a Director’s Forum. This year’s highlights include the discovery of a new element, the award of the CASL Innovation Hub to a team led by ORNL, Jaguar’s remaining the world’s top supercomputer, and Secretary Chu’s announcement of UT-Battelle’s contract extension during his visit to the Lab. We’ve seen the Lab’s staff grow to 4,900 by the end of the fiscal year, an increase that represents close to 500 new hires and a net of some 250 over the last twelve months.

At Tuesday’s meeting I shared some numbers ranging back to 2000, when UT-Battelle came on board at ORNL. Several costs have increased substantially during the decade. For example, the cost of fringe benefits for staff is up 155 percent, driven largely by medical and pension costs. These increases are being felt all across the business sector. The average fully burdened charge-out rate for a mid-level S&T staff member has increased 61 percent during the decade, to $362,140. In 2000 that cost was $224,062. Nevertheless, we’ve reduced our indirect cost burden from 57 percent to 50 percent since 2000 by growing our base from roughly $600 million to about $1.6 billion.

One of the key messages of my presentation is our commitment to holding the mid-level S&T chargeout rate flat in FY 2011. The current outlook for the federal budget makes this a difficult challenge since I am doubtful we will be able to continue to expand our base funding over the next few years at the pace we have over the past decade. Further complicating our challenge is the fact that in FY 2011 we must begin contributing to the ORNL pension fund for the first time in many years.

Despite these challenges, I actually am optimistic about our future. Not only is ORNL well-positioned to compete for program opportunities, but we have also been preparing over the last year to take a hard look at controlling cost through a number of improved business practices.

The Director’s Forum included a discussion of the contribution of $36 million that UT-Battelle will make to the ORNL pension fund at the close of the FY 10 fiscal year. The separation of the pension fund administration from Y-12 on September 1 means that UT-Battelle now has the ability and responsibility to prudently manage the fund on behalf of current and future ORNL retirees. The very successful year we enjoyed also made it possible to provide a substantial contribution to the fund, which as of September 15 contained approximately $1.1 billion. Our pension fund is sound, and we will continue to make the payments needed to keep it sound for current and future retirees.

The presentation from last Tuesday’s Director’s Forum can be accessed at this url: http://portal.ornl.gov/sites/leadership/forum/

The recent realignment of our nuclear operations into the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate under Kelly Beierschmitt is an example of adapting our organizational structure to respond to changes in DOE’s mission needs. In this case, the growing recognition that nuclear energy is an essential part of an energy solution provides a great opportunity for the Laboratory. We are also expanding our commitment to graduation education through the Graduate Education and University Partnerships Directorate under Jim Roberto. The top students who come here now to do research will become a valuable network of scientists, engineers, and administrators who obtained much of their mission-critical skill sets at ORNL.

Recent travels include a trip to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I presented the E. W. Guptill Memorial Lecture and met with students. Flight delays prevented me from speaking to a conference on Neutrons for Global Energy Solutions in Bonn, Germany; however, Ian Anderson was there and represented ORNL in my stead.

I joined this year’s United Way campaign volunteers and Leadership Givers in hosting Tennessee Board of Regents member and First Tennessee Bank official Pam Fansler, who spoke at this year’s Leadership Givers breakfast. Congratulations to campaign chair Kathy Carney and ORNL staff members and retirees for once again putting ORNL over $1 million in United Way contributions. UT-Battelle remains one of the region’s leading United Way contributors, an important fact among our neighbors in the community. Thanks again to all of you who helped make this success possible.

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Source: Frank Munger | Knoxville News Sentinel
Photo: Oak Ridge National Laboratory