Poor climate for ARSC: Layoffs likely

By Heather Bryant and Andrew Sheeler

In a staff meeting today with employees of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC), Chancellor Brian Rogers had an “honest, frank discussion” on the center’s future, according to Bob Shefchik, UAF Executive Officer.

The future looks grim, according to Shefchik. ARSC  receives 95 percent of its funding from the Department of Defense (DOD), and their contract is set to expire May 31, 2011. Shefchik said that their DOD funding is “at risk,” that there is turmoil in Washington, D.C. right now with regard to appropriations.

“If indeed our DOD contract is not renewed, there’s 46 employees at risk,” said Shefchik.

ARSC has a staff of 46 comprised of students, graduate students, doctoral and post-doctoral students and regular staff. Termination clauses in their contracts range from at-will employment to a six-month requirement of notice. From Wednesday, Dec. 1, it is six months until the end of May.

Chancellor Rogers “really wants to give people as much notice as possible,” said Marmian Grimes, UAF’s Senior Public Information Officer.

In the Spring, ARSC closed down its Discovery Lab due to lack of funding. According to Shefchik, news of the threatened funding was expected by the staff. Grimes said that Rogers has met with the staff several times in order to keep them in the loop.

DOD employs six supercomputing centers nationwide and has recently been reconsidering whether it needs that many. The only other non-military supercomputing center DOD funds is located in Hawaii.

While DOD receives the majority of ARSC’s computing power, UAF also has supercomputing needs. “The situation is complicated by the fact the UAF needs some supercomputing resources for things such as climate change models,” Grimes said. If the DOD contract expires, it is unknown how many ARSC employees will be retained.

“We don’t know what the future of supercomputing at UAF is going to look like,” said Grimes.

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