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(WBIR-Oak Ridge) Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a voluntary separation program to cope with budget cuts and uncertain financial standings of government programs.

ORNL Communications Director David Keim said ORNL has not set a target number of jobs to eliminate, but they asked the Department of Energy to approve a reduction of up to 475 jobs.

"We hope we're no where close to that number, but that gives us flexibility no matter what budget numbers may become reality," said Keim.

Employees can apply for early retirement through the voluntary separation program, but ORNL must accept their requests.

Keim said ORNL's goal is to maintain a balance of 60 percent of jobs that receive direct funding and 40 percent of overhead employees. He said ORNL's goal is to cut overhead.

"That means positions that aren't funded directly through federal funding, like legal, accounting, communications, and maintenance," said Keim. "There's no way to sugar coat it, though. Science will be affected."

ORNL staffs 4,400 people, including 2,700 scientists, engineers, and technicians who work in research and development.

Keim said the voluntary separation is a result of a decreased budget.

"We planned for a $1.6 billion budget, but we think by the end of fiscal year, which is October 1st, we will be down to $1.5 billion," said Keim. "And projections show we might only be at $1.4 for the next fiscal year."

ORNL said it will accept applications from employees interested in voluntary separation starting October 1st.

"As we review those applications, we'll keep our focus on science, keep our focus on doing good things for the country, and try to cut overhead costs, like many businesses are doing," said Keim.

Keim said not everyone who applies will necessarily be approved for voluntary separation. ORNL said it will not cut positions that are necessary for the facility to operate.

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