Director’s Message: Budget update for FY18
Last week, I was pleased to host the CP-1 Symposium, marking the 75th anniversary of Enrico Fermi’s historic discovery that led to the founding of Argonne. Attendees had a chance to reflect on the major impact the national labs have had in the world, in nuclear engineering and in many other areas as well.
We continue to make a difference, increasing scientific knowledge and helping the world become more secure, sustainable and prosperous. As we transition into a new fiscal year, however, we must acknowledge budget constraints as we continue our critical mission. I ask for your patience and support as our funding picture becomes clearer and we respond accordingly.
A continuing resolution that was signed into law in September maintains our FY17 federal funding through December 8. As Congress deliberates the FY18 federal budget, we are wise to prepare for the coming fiscal year — and beyond. While lab leadership is encouraged by the support for the Advanced Photon Source upgrade, exascale computing and the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, we also recognize reasons for concern. Over the last few years, funding for the national labs has remained flat-to-declining, while costs continue to increase, effectively reducing the dollars available for research. That reality, combined with a continued need to invest in ourselves, has prompted lab leadership to increase our indirect rate by one percent.
The lab always has been committed to ensuring the future of our research, staff and facilities. Over the past few years, with flat funding and increasing costs, we have cut spending, deferred infrastructure projects and invested for growth through Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD), centers and institutes, and new research facilities — all while keeping our indirect rate flat for the past three years.
Keeping that rate flat, while transferring additional research directorate overhead services to mission support, has effectively reduced support to research costs year after year. However, these factors, along with Argonne’s execution of a multi-year investment plan, have put us in a position where it is necessary to increase the indirect rate in order to provide the needed support for our research mission.
Lab investment decisions are driven by strategic planning at the division, directorate and laboratory level. LDRD funding for FY18 has been reduced due to recovery and budgetary constraints. Lab leadership recognizes that in some cases, changes caused confusion and hardship, and the leadership team is committed to making the LDRD program more effective and transparent. Financial pressures also have forced the lab to reconsider which infrastructure projects can be pursued now and which must be deferred.
Lab leadership is committed to pursuing and communicating a number of immediate cost analyses and actions that will support laboratory operations in FY18 and the coming years. Once Congress passes a FY18 funding bill, any additional cost saving will be reinvested into priority projects that support lab growth. In addition, strategic planning will ensure that our investments are directed effectively to advance our major initiatives, core capabilities and general laboratory infrastructure, while stabilizing our LDRD funding and enabling operation with predictable indirect rates.
As Argonne develops promising growth opportunities in a number of areas, I need everyone’s support in bringing new research programs to Argonne while maintaining the impact and rigor of our current efforts.
Innovating the way we do business and finding ways to reduce costs is ultimately an effort for each of us and I am confident we will prioritize projects in a way that optimizes our ability to meet our mission and minimize negative impacts.
Throughout the history of the labs — and certainly during my 30-plus years within the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory system — funding has ebbed and flowed due to many factors. Budgets may change but the importance of our scientific mission does not — nor does my confidence in all of us to think strategically, work creatively and look out for one another.
Your thoughts, ideas and suggestions are important to me. Please join me on Monday, October 9, at 2:30 p.m. in Building 212, Room A157, for my informal “Conversations with Kearns,” or email me anytime at email@example.com.
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Thank you for your dedication and continued support. I welcome your feedback.