Durbin supports science labs

By:  Victoria Johnson
The Herald News

Proposed spending cuts could lead to the layoffs of more than 1,000 scientists and researchers at two Illinois national laboratories, a move that would hurt research, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday.

Durbin appeared at the Argonne National Laboratory and spoke out against proposed federal budget cuts. If approved, the cuts could force Argonne to lay off more than 1,000 workers, and Fermilab some 400, Durbin said.

Argonne is located near Lemont and Fermilab is near Batavia.

“I understand that cuts need to be made, but I think what was done in the House of Representatives is wrong — just plain wrong,” Durbin said.

Democrats have bemoaned a measure House Republicans approved Feb. 19 that would fund government through the end of the budget year, which expires on Sept. 30.

The plan, H.R. 1, calls for about $61 billion in cuts. It’s scheduled for debate this week in the Senate.

Durbin said the bill would be damaging to research and development and to the United States’ overall global standing in science.

According to Durbin’s office, H.R. 1, if enacted, would cut $1.1 billion in federal science spending.

“To think that up to one-third of the scientists and support staff would be laid off here in the next seven months, that the research work that’s under way would be suspended, in my mind is just the wrong way for us to go,” Durbin said.

Argonne spokeswoman Angela Hardin confirmed more than 1,000 jobs would be lost there, with some projects being halted for months. The cuts would mean losing a third of the research staff, and some top scientific talent.

“A lot of these scientists in the laboratories — they’re sought after, and we’d like to keep them,” she said.

If proposed federal spending cuts are approved, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia would institute immediate furloughs that would equal about a 17 percent pay cut for employees.

Fermilab already was planning in September to close its Tevatron collider — the world’s second largest particle accelerator — because funding for a three-year extension was denied.

The cuts being considered would hurt more than Argonne and Fermilab, said Donald Levy, vice president for Research and for National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

“We need Argonne and Fermilab to remain vital parts of the Chicago area’s high-tech community, which thrives on their discoveries, innovation and world-class facilities,” Levy said. “The massive science cuts being considered would threaten not just Argonne and Fermilab, but that broader high-tech economy.”