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LANL Director McMillan announces plans to retire

By Tris DeRoma
Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 11:36 am

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan announced Tuesday his plans to retire at the end of year.
McMillan informed LANL employees during an in-person, all-employee meeting, according to a release.

“It has truly been an honor and a privilege to serve as your Director these past six years. Every day, I have been in awe of the people of this great Laboratory and what we have been able to contribute to this nation’s security,” McMillan told employees, according to the release.

“Charlie McMillan has led Los Alamos National Laboratory with a rare combination of commitment, intelligence and hard work,” said Norm Pattiz, Chairman of Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the management and operations contractor for the lab. “Because of his passion for the Lab, its missions and its people, he agreed to stay on as Director at the Board’s request, past his originally planned retirement date. We appreciate Charlie’s commitment and believe he has put this iconic institution in a strong position to continue serving the country for many years to come.”

McMillan said work to advance analytical capabilities with the new Trinity supercomputer, experimental capabilities in Los Alamos and at the National Nuclear Security Site in Nevada and the lab’s research in materials science has strengthened nuclear weapons and global security mission work.

“I am proud of the scientific and engineering work that underpins all of our national security efforts and leads to scientific advancements,” said McMillan. “From helping explore Mars, to aiding global efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, to producing life-saving medical isotopes, to earth system modeling, Los Alamos’ unique multidisciplinary scientific capabilities make the world a better place.”

McMillan noted in his all-employee meeting the health of the laboratory, as measured both in hiring and budget.
Los Alamos hired more than 1,000 employees last fiscal year and expects to hire roughly the same number by the end of FY2017.

Leaders from around the nation and the Los Alamos County community wished McMillan well. They also recalled his contributions.

“I am personally grateful to Charlie for his 35 years of extraordinary and exemplary service to the Department of Energy and to NNSA. His leadership, vision, and passion in key senior positions at both of our nuclear weapon design laboratories have ensured that America’s nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure, reliable, and effective,” National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Frank Klotz said. “Under his tutelage, LANL continues to excel in advancing leading-edge science, engineering, and high-performance computing to protect our nation, as well as our allies and partners. We are all safer today, and will be for many years to come, thanks to Dr. McMillan.”

“Best wishes to Charlie McMillan as he transitions into retirement. From my first conversation with Charlie after a Community Leader’s Breakfast event, I have been impressed with his commitment to his organization, its mission, and its people,” University of New Mexico, Los Alamos CEO Cindy Rooney said. “At UNM-Los Alamos, we have been fortunate to have a Director of LANL who has supported us in many areas, including the development of programs, such as the Electro Mechanical Technology program; internship opportunities for students; encouraging LANL staff members to teach at UNM-LA; and supporting events on campus.”

Los Alamos School Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus recalled that when he left his job as LANL’s director of community programs to be superintendent of the Los Alamos Public Schools in 2015,  McMillan reached out and talked with Steinhaus for 90 minutes, giving him advice on how to run a large organization. 

Steinhaus said McMillan never hesitated to reach out to help him and his staff professionally.
“He was always approachable, always understanding of the importance of education in building the laboratory’s workforce,” Steinhaus said.

One of the ways McMillan demonstrated that commitment was through LANL’s Math and Science Academy, a program that taught the fundamentals of science and mathematics. The program was started 14 years ago, but according to Steinhaus, McMillan injected new life into the program through increased support to the lab staff that taught the program.

“We greatly appreciate Charlie’s leadership and support for the entire education process, from kindergarten, through graduate school,” Steinhaus said. 

Los Alamos County Chairman David Izraelevitz also wished McMillan well in his retirement and for all the work he’s done helping the county. He also wished him well for the personal example he set for lab employees. Izraelevitz retired from the laboratory this year.

“(McMillan) Living in Los Alamos sent a powerful message, that he was personally committed to the community,” Izraelevitz said.

Izraelevitz also appreciated McMillan coming regularly to council to give updates on what was happening at the laboratory, the largest employer in northern New Mexico.

The laboratory’s budget has grown about $400 million from FY2013 to today’s FY2017 budget of $2.5 billion.
“With an eye on the future, we have taken steps in the past few years to put Los Alamos in a strong position to meet the challenges that lie ahead,” said McMillan. “The work that has been done to develop future leaders at all levels, expand the operating budget, and hire the workforce of 2030 has put the Laboratory on the right trajectory for continued success in the decades to come.”

While McMillan found success in maintaining and keeping a strong workforce, his critics pointed out that McMillan was part of a financial bonus-driven system that the critics said led to the many safety lapses that happened on McMillan’s watch.

One in particular, a leaking barrel of waste that caused the Waste Isolation Treatment Plant to shut down for three years starting in 2014, set in motion the 2018 transfer to a new operations and management contract.

“I don’t necessarily blame him, (for the safety problems) these are the kinds of things that can reach out and bite any director,” Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello said. “But, we felt the bonus system for senior management hasn’t served the laboratory well. He (McMillian) benefited by it personally, and I think (the bonus system) makes the lab harder to manage because the senior managers that Dr. McMillan relies on are motivated themselves by the bonuses.”

Mello further stated that the lab would be better off under a non-profit manager and contractor, “but even that wouldn’t solve all of the problems.”

According to data accumulated by the Los Alamos Study group, McMillan was making $1.5 million as laboratory director in 2013, the last known figures officially available. LANL officials declined to release McMillan’s current salary and benefits package.

Klotz also said McMillan’s successor will be chosen before the lab’s management and operations contract expires.

“We will work closely with the Board of Los Alamos National Security, LLC in naming a successor to lead the laboratory until the current contract expires on Sept. 30, 2018. We expect to make an announcement on a successor in the late fall,” he said.

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