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UPDATE: Cuts at Penn State ARL Seen as 'Temporary Slowdown,' Director Says

on February 23, 2011 7:31 AM

Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory sees its workforce reductions, announced this week, as a "temporary slowdown" at an otherwise-strong organization, ARL Director Edward Liszka said.

"We view this as a temporary situation," he told StateCollege.com. "We feel that once the budgets start moving at the federal government and on into the future, we'll be maintaining ourselves as a healthy, vibrant organization."

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers confirmed late Monday that 13 of the roughly 900 workers at ARL will be laid off. Twenty others will see reduced work hours. Those affected were notified this week.

Reached Tuesday, Liszka said the reductions stem in part from the economic downtown -- and a resulting decline in funding -- and in part from the federal budget situation.

The U.S. government, which supplies much of ARL's money, is operating temporarily under "continuing resolutions," which maintain short-term budgets under 2010 funding levels. Lawmakers are working toward finalizing a more traditional, year-long budget.

But in the meantime, "as the federal government hasn't passed a federal budget yet," continuing resolutions are delaying the release of funds that normally would support ARL, Liszka said.

He said some ARL positions could be restored once a regular federal budget is finalized. But it's too soon to know specifics, Liszka said.

The last time ARL saw a workforce reduction, he said, was eight or nine years ago -- and that was for similar reasons.

Liszka said those affected by the current cuts have been working in "a number of disciplines," many related to undersea technologies that ARL develops for the U.S. Navy, and to communications technologies that ARL pursues for "various Department of Defense sponsors."

The decision to reduce some people's working hours -- rather than imposing a higher volume of outright layoffs -- represents "an attempt on (ARL's) part to retain as many people as we can," Liszka said.

"You could increase the layoff number and not put anybody on reduced hours," he said. "We felt it was better to have a reduced-hour situation for a short period of time and then -- hopefully -- get people restored back to full time."

Liszka said ARL makes its own personnel decisions and is supported entirely through external research dollars. When money doesn't arrive as anticipated, he said, "we have no way to support individuals if we don't have the projects for them to work on."

He said the ARL reductions are not connected to the expense-control efforts being undertaken by the university's Core Council. That group is trying to identify $10 million in permanent cost reductions at Penn State, largely through closure and consolidation of relatively underutilized academic programs, administrators have said.

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