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From the Director: One Year

On Wednesday, September 10, 2007, President Hennessy appointed me acting director of SLAC to serve until a new director was named. We all know how that turned out! And though the "acting" next to my name was not removed until December, even from the first day, I knew that my job was to help to build the SLAC of the future. And for the last year, together, that is what we have been doing.

On that first day, I knew that SLAC had to go forward as one lab. Our scientific vision for the long-term future had to be developed as one lab. We had to embark on an improvement initiative for the support activities that fully enabled the science mission at SLAC as one lab. The vision of one lab has been and continues to be the strategic context within which to make the tactical decisions to move the lab forward.

In retrospect, when I took on this challenge I had no idea of the magnitude of the challenges we would face. I am incredibly impressed with how the laboratory has met those challenges and made significant progress towards our future. At this time of year, I cannot resist asking: So how have we done in the last year?

Science Programs

The science productivity of the laboratory has been outstanding. The highlights are well known to you: the outstanding final run of the B Factory on the Upsilon resonances, the spectacular launch and early science of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, another outstanding year in user efficiency by the Stanford Synchrotron Research Laboratory, and many, many individual research projects and publications throughout the year.

In addition, important steps are being taken to ensure outstanding science in the future. There has been excellent progress on the Linac Coherent Light Source construction project and the LCLS Ultrafast Science Instruments project has passed Critical Decision 2 and is moving forward. The long range scientific vision of the laboratory was developed through out the spring and presented to the Department of Energy to a receptive audience. Further discussions are evolving this fall with DOE, our partner labs and Stanford University as we begin to execute the steps to make that scientific vision a reality.

Mission Support Functions at the Laboratory

Many of the mission support functions at the laboratory were designed for the "single" program laboratory of the past. Many were optimized for local units rather than for the laboratory as a whole. While the job of optimizing those functions for our multi-program future has been much more challenging than I realized, we are making progress.

The most significant step has been to bring in new leadership. Our new chief safety officer, Craig Ferguson; chief operating officer, Sandy Merola; and head of procurement, Barry Miller, represent three major steps forward for the organization. The search for a new Human Resources director to fill the hole left with Lee Lyon’s retirement is approaching conclusion. Other key management support functions are being recruited to the laboratory as I speak.

The SLAC Improvement Initiative has started 11 projects in areas of performance management, work planning and control, requirements management, procurement, business IT, and HR. Some of these programs are already paying dividends. Others have suffered from staffing shortages, especially acute after the layoffs. All are being reviewed now by our COO as the SII appropriately comes under his wing. Sandy will be updating you soon, via meetings and this forum, about specific plans and planning process for Operations in support of SLAC science.

An area of clear improvement is safety. It has taken me a long time to accept this conclusion but the input from the Site Office, the Oak Ridge Review Team, and most importantly from our own staff, has convinced me that the cultural change to line management responsibility and accountability for safety is really happening. Safety as a core value has taken root at the laboratory. We have lots of work to do to ensure continued progress and many of our important systems, such as those for work planning and issues management, are still in their early stages. But we are on the right track and the challenge now is to execute to our plans.

While I wish we could have accomplished more in the past year, I’m also realistic. This laboratory has done a remarkable job of dealing with change, and moving forward to embrace its future. The magnitude of the changes underway is breathtaking and we are far from being done; rather, the pace of change will be speeding up in the coming year. So thank you for joining me and stepping up to this great challenge. We are creating a very bright future for SLAC; the future is ours and I, for one, am eager to get there!

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, September 12, 2008