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From the Director: Communication, Communication, Communication

On Tuesday, I completed another round of meetings with all of the workgroups at the laboratory. I met with most of the staff at the laboratory, in groups ranging in size from about 30 to more than 100 in a period of 10 days.

As I've done before, I started each meeting with a few comments about what is on my mind. Then most of each hour was devoted to Q&A from the audience. My message to the staff for this round of meetings was simple. We have a long way to go to achieve our goal of a being a smoothly and effectively functioning multi-program laboratory, but we are heading in the right direction and we are making progress.

The best part of the meeting for me is the questions, and every time I do this, the questions are different. I always say that no question is off limits. The variety this time was just great.

I was asked questions I couldn't answer:

Q: What will happen with science budgets in the new administration?
A: I don't know. I can only speculate and be optimistic given the Democratic commitment to the Innovation Agenda.

Q: When will the lab get started on some of the new projects that have been proposed, such as FACET?
I don't know. We are fighting for them but it will depend on budgets.

Q: Who will be the next Secretary of Energy?
I don't have a clue.

Q: What do I think about College Football Playoffs?

I was asked questions for which I could be somewhat reassuring:

Q: How will we be affected by the Stanford University budget problems?
The current budget issues at Stanford will not have a major impact on us.

Q: Will we have a lab-wide reduction in force in the current Continuing Resolution [budget]?

Many questions led to detailed discussions about lab policies, upcoming experiments, the role of science in the issues facing society today, and our progress on the One Lab policy. There were a few questions that really surprised me, such as: Who did I vote for? What keeps me up at night?

And I was asked point blank: "How can we, the staff, help you right now?"

I had to pause before answering that one, because I wanted to give the thoughtful answer that the question deserved. My response is perhaps worth repeating. We are going through tremendous change at this laboratory, change that is difficult and unsettling for every one of us. There are two ways to respond to change. One is to find problems with it, and reasons for not changing. The other is to find solutions to the problems that change presents and move the laboratory forward. I need the staff to continue to work to find solutions and move the laboratory forward. We need to play to win.

Thanks to all of you for your attendance and engagement in the Q&A sessions. I will continue to do work group meetings like this a couple of times a year, for two reasons. I think it helps communications within the lab. And I really enjoy it!

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, November 21, 2008