Partnerships, mission synergy key to Sandia's future

By Bill Murphy

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sandia President and Labs Director Jill Hruby delivers her first "State of the Labs" address

Sandia President and Laboratories Director Jill Hruby

Sandia President and Laboratories Director Jill Hruby delivers her first State of the Labs address to Sandia workforce.

As Sandia adapts to meet the evolving challenges the nation faces in a complicated 21st-century world, a robust network of trusted partnerships with academia, industry, and other federal laboratories and agencies will become increasingly important, President and Laboratories Director Jill Hruby said at her first State of the Labs presentation last week.

“We have to have trusted partnerships,” Jill said. “We cannot be a 12,000-employee laboratory by ourselves.”

A key component of building stronger partnerships, Jill said, will be Sandia’s Academic Alliance initiative. Under the initiative, and with NNSA Sandia Field Office approval, several Sandia managers will serve temporary assignments at strategically important universities: Georgia Tech, Purdue, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Texas at Austin. These on-campus Sandians will play an important role in helping with curriculum decisions, identifying opportunities for research collaborations, and serving as front-line recruiters to bring the best engineering and science graduates to the Laboratories.

“We can’t be insular,” Jill said, adding that the alliances with academia are an important part of ensuring that Sandia remains at the forefront of engineering excellence. She added that Sandia will be increasingly proactive in seeking out collaboration opportunities with other federal laboratories, agencies, and industrial partners, noting at one point that “engineering doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

In opening remarks, Jill told an audience of Sandians at the Steve Schiff Auditorium (the event was also videostreamed to Sandia’s Carlsbad office) that “we had a great year” in FY15, with solid funding, significant, sustained accomplishments in key mission area programs, and measurable progress in important Labs-wide safety initiatives.

Changing demographics

Jill noted that some 24 percent of the Labs workforce has been hired in the past three years, adding that she is proud of the strides that have been made in establishing a more balanced demographic spectrum, which in recent years had tilted toward retirement-eligible employees.

One change that has been very apparent to the workforce, Jill said, is the fact that 11 percent of management employees are in new positions compared to a year ago. While that may have required some adjustment by employees, the trend is healthy for the Labs as a whole as managers move around, learn new things, and take what they learn to new roles.

Sandia, Jill said, is evolving from what has been considered a multiprogram laboratory to a multimission laboratory. The words sound similar, she said, but the difference between the two is more than semantic; the change in language emphasizes that the Labs is not program-based, but mission-focused, with seven key mission areas that address critical national needs.

Jill said she “couldn’t be prouder” of the accomplishments over the past year in the Labs’ nuclear weapons program, which remains on schedule and on budget. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” she said, “but we’re in great shape right now.”

‘A tremendous body of work’

Jill called the efforts over the past year in the Labs’ Stockpile Surveillance Program “truly impressive, a tremendous body of work.” That ongoing program provides the technical basis for the annual stockpile assessment letter she signed in September and delivered to the secretaries of Energy and Defense and the chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council.

The breadth and depth of Sandia’s work on Nonproliferation Treaty implementation technologies “really opened some eyes” among treaty signatories, Jill said, providing important reassurance of the nation’s commitment to the treaty.

Other work she highlighted included key initiatives in addressing the Ebola crisis, both with work at the Department of Homeland Security-sponsored, Sandia-Los Alamos-operated National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center and with Sandia personnel on the ground in West Africa. The work was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the US Department of State.

Jill also cited the Labs’ new Counterfeit Detection Center (CDC) as an important model for Sandia’s future. “This is an incredible capability Sandia has established for a group of sponsors to assess components from the micro to the macro level looking for counterfeits,” she said. Jill noted that the CDC is especially significant because it represents infrastructure investment by sponsors beyond DOE/NNSA.

Sandia has played a role in climate change studies for some time, Jill said, but noted that the Labs’ latest work, led by Mark Taylor (1446) in partnership with 15 other institutions “really puts Sandia on the map” in climate change science. Mark’s team developed ACME — the Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy — to examine “big science” questions that drive climate change: water cycle, biogeochemistry, and the cryosphere. In the years ahead, ACME will be able to leverage increased supercomputer power as it becomes available.

In another area, Jill highlighted Pavel Bochev (1442), who was honored by DOE with the prestigious E.O. Lawrence Award for important, breakthrough work in advanced mathematics.

Noting that the Sandia’s Mission Support organizations are an essential component of the Labs’ ability to deliver with excellence, Jill said that significant new office space was brought on-line in both California and New Mexico “on budget, on time, and with a perfect safety record.” She also praised the Sandia initiative to centralize waste disposal, an initiative that saved some $400,000 last year alone.

The Labs FY16-FY20 Strategic Plan, Jill noted, has been consolidated and simplified from five objectives to three:

  • Amplify our national security impact.
  • Strengthen our Laboratories’ foundation to maximize mission impact.
  • Advance an exceptional work environment that enables and inspires our people in service to our nation.

Jill said the Labs leadership has identified two so-called “crosscuts” — considerations that affect all three objectives — that will impact how effective Sandia will be in realizing those objectives: trusted partnerships and exceptional performance.

Pledging to make contract re-bid a non-issue for workforce

In a brief discussion of the 2016 budget situation, Jill said she remains hopeful that Sandia and NNSA will have a real FY16 budget appropriation this year rather than having to work again from continuing resolution funding.

She also addressed the issue of the re-bid by DOE/NNSA of the Management and Operations contract for Sandia. Lockheed Martin is managing the Labs on a contract extension that expires at the end of April 2017. Jill said she does not expect that contract to be extended again, adding that a re-bid is a certainty. She pledged that she and the leadership team will do everything they can to ensure that the Labs’ work environment remains as stable as possible. “We’ll try to make this a non-issue for you,” she said.

Noting that her first three months in her new role have been filled with consequential activities, she said, “It has been an enormous honor to represent you throughout the country and the world,” concluding, “Keep up the good work.”