COVID related supply chain disruptions and pandemic-driven changes in workforce behavior has stressed an already lean procurement staff at the Sandia National Laboratories, which like the rest of the civilian nuclear weapons complex is managing much more spending as National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons modernization programs ramp up, a labs procurement official said here Monday.

Some of the personnel churn in Sandia’s procurement shop is the natural effect of mid-career people using their credentials to look for other jobs, but some of the turnover seemed to be driven by the wider availability of telecommuting during the ongoing pandemic, David Dietz, director of integrated supply chain at Sandia National Laboratories, said here at the annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit.

“I have 300 people,” Dietz said. “In fiscal year ‘20, I had four people leave out of 300. Nobody was vaccinated. Thirty-five people left the following year, post vaccination. Normally, the New Mexico workforce, at least in the Albuquerque area, has a higher tendency to stay local.”

At the same time, Dietz said, Sandia’s annual procurement spending rose 11% year-over-year in the government’s 2021 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Dietz spoke during a panel discussion moderated by TechSource, a Los Alamos, N.M.-based NNSA subcontractor. During a question-and-answer session following Dietz’s talk, one TechSource executive, a former NNSA procurement official who worked at the agency’s Albuquerque operations office and later at Los Alamos, agreed with an audience member who suggested that Sandia has unnecessarily foreclosed one avenue for mitigating churn at the labs by making it hard for retired Sandians to return to the labs as subcontractors.

It’s “something that could be fixed with the stroke of a pen,” the audience member, David O’Flynn, the president of Strategic Management Solutions, told Wendy Baca, TechSource’s senior weapons engineer.

“That’s a true statement,” Baca said.

Meanwhile, as it expands old facilities or builds new ones to help its infrastructure keep up with the escalating demands of the NNSA Sandia has, like anyone else involved with construction, struggled with supply chain shortages, which more than driving up costs have stretched out schedules, Dietz said.

“We’re not talking single-digit weeks, we’re talking 20-week differences on bids,” said Dietz, who said one construction labs project that was supposed to start in April could not ramp up until July.

“The companies that are actually going to win in the world right now have figured out how to optimize their supply chain to account for COVID,” Dietz said.