Argonne National Laboratory Early Retirement Program

EMD-81-33: Published: Nov 26, 1980. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1980.

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A review was made of the Department of Energy's (DOE) process for renewing the operating contract of the Argonne National Laboratory. DOE approved the operating contractor's proposed program to encourage senior laboratory scientists to retire earlier than the normal retirement age of 65 years. Through the early retirement program, the Laboratory and DOE were hoping to terminate the employment of older, less productive, senior laboratory scientists who were engaged in less important work and who could not readily adapt to changing priorities. By so doing, vacancies would be created for younger, more adaptable scientists.

GAO found that DOE accepted the proposal without any meaningful analysis by either the contractor or DOE. Specifically, the Department did not validate the program's objectives or determine that the early retirement program was appropriate for, or was focused on, achieving those objectives. Because DOE failed to make such an analysis, the program has resulted in the: (1) expenditure of over a million dollars in severance payments to 59 laboratory employees in violation of DOE regulations; (2) inclusion of administrative employees even though the program's objectives were not directed toward them; and (3) loss of some senior laboratory scientists who were making valuable contributions. Had DOE considered other alternatives for creating openings for younger scientists through existing mechanisms such as identifying and terminating less productive employees regardless of age, these losses may have been avoided. Because parts of the early retirement program are continuing at the Laboratory and because the program could serve as a precedent and incentive for other national laboratory contractors, GAO believes DOE should reevaluate in more detail the basis for, and approval of, the Argonne early retirement program.

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