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700 Jobs at Argonne, Fermi on the Line in Trump Budget

Crain's Chicago Business

Exact figures are hard to come by, and things are certain to change, but I'm hearing from knowledgeable sources that roughly 700 workers would lose their jobs at the Chicago area's two big national research labs should President Donald Trump's proposed cuts in spending go forward.

I wrote yesterday that 13 members of the Illinois delegation, all Democrats, have written Energy Secretary Rick Perry asking for a breakdown of how many heads are on the block at the Argonne and Fermi national labs. Perry hasn't replied, and if any of the authors of the letter knows—especially Rep. Bill Foster, D-Geneva—they're not saying.

But GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano has some data.

After initially saying he couldn't talk for confidentiality reasons, Hultgren's office now has released an estimate it got regarding Fermi, which is in his district. The estimate as to the impact of cuts on the Batavia-based research institute: a projected 150 to 200 jobs of its roughly 1,700 positions.

Argonne, in Lemont, has about twice as many workers as Fermi, and many of them are focused in areas such as clean energy that the Trump administration wants to slash in favor of a renewed push for fossil fuels, especially coal and petroleum production.

That easily could bring the cuts there to 500 of roughly 3,200 positions—consistent with an estimated loss of 6,700 of 29,000 jobs at the 10 labs nationally, as reported by Science Magazine recently. In fact, reliable sources say cuts of 500 at Argonne would be a good bet.

Hultgren, co-chair of the House Science & National Labs Caucus, says he's going to fight such moves.

"Our national laboratories are on the forefront of exciting scientific discovery and technological advancement. These discoveries fuel job creation," he said in a statement. "Under the president's budget, Fermilab has estimated it would have to adjust its workforce by 150-200 people. I have been speaking to our lab directors around the country—including visiting Sandia and Los Alamos labs in New Mexico last week in addition to my regular communication with Fermilab and Argonne—to ensure they have the proper researchers and staff to carry out their experiments."

Argonne is in the districts of Foster and Rep. Dan Lipinski. Among other things they said in their letter to Perry: "We fear that the funding levels requested . . . would cause permanent damage to our research infrastructure and force our national labs to lay off critical staff. This is no way to keep America great or maintain our position as a leader in science and innovation."

Added Lipinski in a phone chat last evening, "This is not going to happen. Argonne's not going to be cut drastically like that."