The first three months

Vicky White

In October I stepped into the role of chief operating officer with a determination to make a difference and improve some aspects of the way the lab operates. It has been an exciting time marked by several unusual events.

The lab survived the government funding shutdown without furloughs and without extensive damage to the scientific program and projects. Planning for a partial shutdown required the help of many people, and I thank all of them and indeed every person at the lab who worked through the difficult situation. Fermilab ended up with a plan and a planning framework for unusual situations that will serve us into the future, whatever bizarre situations we may be faced with.

Planning for P5, the national science planning committee to establish the U.S. physics program for the next decade, has been a huge effort over the past few months. I was pleased to participate in the many discussions at the lab. The future vision and plan informs every step we take today in operating the lab.

Extreme cold conditions led to us keeping the lab open but actively encouraging those who could to work from home. We do have a telecommuting policy and procedure, and I want to use it, as appropriate.

I learned a lot more about the Employee Advisory Group and some of the issues they are working on to improve the way the lab functions. I look forward to receiving their advice and suggestions in the future.

I am astonished by the number of small things that come past the COO to sign or decide. I’m tracking everything to figure out how it should be done in a more efficient way that will benefit all of us. Something Fermilab has that not many people know about but that our DOE contract requires is a contractor assurance system. Although it sounds formal and bureaucratic, it can actually help us do a better job. I’ll write more about it in my next column in February. Doing it right will let us fix some policies that are out of date or missing completely. It will also help us better understand which bureaucracies we have because we must have them and which ones we have because that is simply the way things have always been done.

I want to hear suggestions for things to improve or fix. Email me or submit suggestions or complaints through the Employee Advisory Group. Some things are hard to fix and some are easy — I’ll do my best.

Do work safely, always with an eye to the future of our lab.

Vicky White is the Fermilab chief operating officer.