Los Alamos National Laboratory director Thom Mason, far left, and Frances Chadwick, LANL staff director, watch as University of California president Janet Napolitano is surrounded by people waiting to shake her hand at a LANL community event Thursday morning. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
As part of the Community Commitment Plan outlined its Los Alamos National Laboratory contract, Triad National Security, LLC is giving $600,000 to the LANL Foundation and $200,000 to the Regional Development Corporation. The grants will benefit K through 12 and college-bound students and their teachers across Northern New Mexico as well as professional development, paid internships and as all as their teachers, and accelerated learning programs.
The announcement was made Thursday morning by University of California (UC) president Janet Napolitano at an education-focused community hosted by LANL at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder. See separate story
LANL director and president of Triad Thom Mason told attendees that the LANL Foundation and Regional Development Corporation are creating and supporting programs that provide people from Northern New Mexico with a range of pathways to work at the Lab or for other employers throughout the region.
“They’ve been really fantastic to work with and are helping us to develop our worker pipeline as the Lab’s mission space expands and we also go through what is a pretty historic rejuvenation of our workforce as many people who’ve been with the Lab for a long time are retiring and we’re bringing in new people.” Mason said. “ We tried to figure out how that fits historically. The further back you go the harder it is to compare the data but this is the highest rate of hiring for at least 30 years, probably more. That’s a combination of some of the growth in our missions (which unfortunately is a reflection of the fact that the world is sort of a scary place) so there is robust bipartisan support for our national security missions.”
Mason said currently some 35 percent of Lab staff have been on board for less than four years which he said gives an idea of the scale of what’s going on as the Lab recruits the next generation of leaders, “not just in science, technology and engineering but across the whole range of things that we do”.
He said the Lab’s budget is growing and getting close to $3 billion a year.
“That’s important because not only do we need to hire staff to run our important missions but we have a lot of important work to do in terms of our infrastructure. The flip side of 75 years is that we have a lot of facilities that have served our country well and have earned their own retirement and we need to refit or replace them as appropriate,” Mason said.
He said in order for this kind of trajectory to be possible, the Lab needs support from the communities, from Santa Fe, Espanola, and Taos to Los Alamos and White Rock and that these are the communities that provide a lot of the skilled workforce and services.
“We do a lot of contracting with small businesses again feeling confident to project that through the end of September it’s going to be more than $900 million dollars that we have awarded this year. We are very pleased that 65 percent of our contracts have gone to small businesses. The majority of the small businesses are local because that’s where we find the companies that understand our needs and are responsive to those needs,” Mason said.
He said projecting forward beyond September gets a little fuzzier.
“My crystal ball is not quite so precise. It’s all subject to federal appropriation but the plans at least would show us investing roughly $5 billion over the next five years to modernize our onsite infrastructure. Some of that reflects the investments that are being made in our production responsibilities at the TA-55 facility, but it’s much broader than that. It’s everything from parking lots and parking garages to roads and office buildings,” Mason said. “The people that we hire – it turns out they need a place to park, they need an office, they also need a place to live and to know where they’re going to send their kids to school, so it’s important to have that strong engagement with the communities around us. To project out further at that rate, we’ll spend probably $10 billion by 2030 in some of that modernization,”
“This is all key to our national security mission – making sure that we have the appropriate physical security, the environmental protections that we need, facilities for handling waste, cooling systems for the next generation supercomputers. There’s a big push to get to an exascale and that requires a lot of cooling and power. We are modernizing the facilities to improve the quality of life for employees – new office buildings so that we can have room, so that not everyone’s doubled up in their offices. Our employees deserve a neat, quality space to work. It needs to be 21st century capable in terms of our research missions and our job is to provide them with that excellent working environment,” he stated.
He said that’s only the first part of the equation for someone that’s making the decision to come to Los Alamos, that people come because of the mission.
“That’s what motivates them. It’s a very committed, passionate workforce that understands the importance of what we do – bringing the very best science technology and engineering operations to support national security challenges. Part of our hiring and recruiting strategy is to actively engage our local communities on issues like housing availability, enhanced transportation, quality K through 12 and higher education, and the lifestyle enhancements that come with living in this beautiful part of the country and all the natural splendor that surrounds us. We’re focused on these issues because that’s not what our prospective employees consider when deciding whether to move here and work for us,” Mason said. “And quite frankly we’re going to need your help on these issues. We don’t build housing. We don’t build roads. We don’t manage the schools. Most of you that are here have an influence over these important services. So thank you for all of your support.”
Following the event, Mason told reporters that a lot of the work underway at the Lab right now is already funded. He noted that some new office space is under construction and that two contracts are on the cusp of being awarded for parking garages. Modernizing facilities makes sure the Lab can continue to operate safely, he said, adding that a new low-level liquid waste system has been added that replaces a 60s era facility.
“The newer office facilities are much more energy-efficient than the 50s era facilities they are replacing. In fact the carbon footprint goes down as we modernize the infrastructure. And if there’s anything the surrounding communities could do to reduce the commute times that would also have a benefit in terms of the carbon footprint,” he said.
Mason noted that the Lab is informing local communities of the plans so that they can incorporate their infrastructure needs into their long-range planning. He said the Lab’s plans are “not pie in the sky” that 1200 people have been hired this year.
In response to a question from the Los Alamos Reporter, Mason said it looks like the Los Alamos County Council is going to be inviting Lab officials to come and make a presentation at an upcoming Council meeting.
“I really appreciate the opportunity. We’re trying to talk about what our plans are and our trajectory all around the region. So, we had an event here (at Buffalo Thunder) a couple of weeks ago. We’re talking more on the education side today. It will be good to be able to update County Council on what our thinking is. Of course we’ve been working with the County government, with people like (County Manager) Harry Burgess that have been informed all the way through the process and they’re a critical partner,” he said. “We’re trying as best we can to be transparent with all the communities around us because of those things that really are beyond our control. People need to understand what our plans are and why they’re important to the nation. We love to support the communities and people need to understand what our plans are, why they’re important to the region and how they can help.”
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis who is also a UC regent, also spoke at the event.