The recent unprecedented expansion of the Los Alamos National Laboratory workforce will continue for at least another year before leveling out at around 2,0000 employees, a senior lab official told the Los Alamos County Council last week.

All told, there are 17,244 people employed at Los Alamos in various capacities from professional National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) scientists and engineers to construction and craft service workers, said Kelly Beierschmitt, the lab’s deputy director for operations.

Just five years ago, the lab employed about 13,000 people with a budget of $2.3 billion, he said. The lab’s budget jumped to $4.4 billion in the current fiscal year and is expected to approach $5 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Plans are to hire about 2,000 more employees over the next 18 months to two years before both staff levels and budgets plateau, Beierschmitt, who works for Los Alamos management prime Triad National Security, told the county council during a meeting on July 18.

“We’ll see another couple of years of growth of the, you know, 2000 employees, maybe another year and a half of that and then we’ll start to see a stabilization,” he said. “A lot of the workforce that we have is tied up in the massive construction that we’re doing, as you well know.”

The lab is gearing up to build at least 30 plutonium pits per year. Most of that work will be done at the lab’s highly-classified PF4 Plutonium Facility but requires a web of infrastructure to support the necessary workforce for transport, waste disposal, custodial and other necessary functions resulting from pit production.

As the initial construction projects are completed between 2026 and 2030, pit production will ramp up, stabilizing the lab’s workforce at about 20,000 people, Beierschmitt said. There are several other construction projects for laboratory and office space that are still in the approval pipeline, as well. Most capital construction projects require approval by the NNSA and Congress, he said.

“We have construction projects that just kind of go on and on that are in the proposal stage, that haven’t been approved yet, but we will see a downturn in the extremity of the construction,” Beierschmitt said. “But as that turns down, the actual production mission will be scaling up. And so we don’t expect it to cause any major staffing swings. But I do expect that we’ll probably – again just speculation – that we’ll be planning out the next year or two in terms of growth of staff.”

Such a precipitous explosion of staff at the Los Alamos main campus, often called “The Hill” has caused a shortage of housing and strained the area’s road network, Beierschmitt acknowledged. The lab also has had trouble finding enough qualified personnel in Los Alamos and surrounding counties, he said.

“We predicted the strain that this would put on both housing, transportation and the actual supply chain of people in northern New Mexico,” Beiershchmitt said. “We predicted it and actually it happened.”

Triad is attempting to lessen the burden on country infrastructure by spreading less-sensitive, non-classified work among sites other than the lab’s main campus. A new three-building, 18,000-square-foot facility recently opened in nearby Santa Fe but has already been filled. The company is considering other off-site “mini-campus” options for low-hazard, “light laboratory” space, research and development work and business and support services, Beierschmitt said. It would take at least three years to get another off-site campus up and running, as none is yet approved, he said.

Hazardous, classified and specialized operations – all nuclear weapon activities, stockpile security, high-explosives testing, for instance – would remain at the main campus, he said.

“We do believe that the growth that we’ve seen in the last two to three years is unprecedented,” he added. “But we don’t expect it to continue. We expect a leveling out of our budgets. And today we’re in great shape to handle swings and slight trepidations of the federal budget.”