Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 26  |  Friday, June 13, 2003  |  Number 10
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Users Office in High Demand

New DOE regulations raise concerns among users

by Kurt Riesselmann

Barbara Book and Dianne Snyder compare notes while setting up the Users Office to handle new demands for foreign user data.
Barbara Book (left) and Dianne Snyder compare notes while setting up the Users Office to handle new demands for foreign user data. -- Photo by Reidar Hahn
With more than 50 roads and 100 buildings situated on 10 square miles, Fermilab can easily overwhelm a first-time visitor. But the Fermilab Users Center provides a home away from home.

"It's the first interface that users have with Fermilab," said Chris White, professor at Illinois Institute of Technology and chairman of the Fermilab Users Executive Committee. "Other than scientists, there are only a few other people at the lab that users work with. Dianne is the face of the laboratory."

Dianne is Dianne Snyder, who has worked in the Users' Office for over six years and took over as head of the office with the retirement of Pat Sorensen in January. Snyder and Barb Book, who joined the office in March, function as the "reference desk" at Fermilab, fielding questions ranging from badges to computer accounts, from housing to safety training, from car rentals to medical insurance, from maps and brochures to "Procedures for Experimenters" and the Graduate Student Association's "Guide to Life at Fermilab."

DOE REQUESTS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Just two weeks after taking over the office, Snyder faced a baptism by fire. A Department of Energy directive required national laboratories by April 4 to collect additional data on all foreign visitors and verify their legal status in the U.S., even those already living and working somewhere in the United States. With Fermilab Associate Director for Administration Bruce Chrisman, Snyder had to understand and implement the new DOE requirements.

The Users Office, headed by Dianne Snyder, is the first stop for every new user. Sooner or later all users, like Bruce Knuteson who has worked on Fermilab experiments for six years, return to the Office to obtain more information or to file additional paperwork.
The Users Office, headed by Dianne Snyder, is the first stop for every new user. Sooner or later all users, like Bruce Knuteson who has worked on Fermilab experiments for six years, return to the Office to obtain more information or to file additional paperwork. -- Photo by Reidar Hahn
"It was mind-boggling with all the changes," said Snyder, who has been at the lab for almost 25 years. "We had appointments with users every fifteen minutes and dealt with walk-ins at the same time. We had a stream of people, sometimes 20 people deep, plus phone calls and emails about the new requirements. We never have had a dull moment."

Snyder gathered and entered data for about 1,400 users, and was noted for combining courtesy with efficiency.

"She took over the job just at the time that a huge new workload evolved, and she's done a superb job," said assistant director Roy Rubinstein. "Though the users weren't happy about the new requirements, they respected the way that Dianne dealt with them."

CONTROVERSY OVER SPECIAL PROCEDURE
Fermilab doesn't carry out classified research, but the new DOE order requires scientists born in, or with citizenship of, a country on the U.S. State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" to obtain authorization before coming to the lab. The special procedure applies to all non-U.S. citizens of or born in Cuba, Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, even if they are already in the United States on a valid visa.

Some users point out that even at the height of the Cold War the U.S. allowed Russian scientists to work at Fermilab. Other scientists fear being unable to attend the Lepton-Photon conference at Fermilab in August. New DOE regulations raise concerns among users "In an open international scientific community, this rubs people the wrong way," said White. "Our lab is about inclusion, not exclusion. The current rules make it hard for certain scientists to access the lab simply due to where they were born, or their citizenship. If we put too many barriers to scientific access at Fermilab, users may decide to do their research elsewhere, where there are fewer impediments to free travel."

The Users Office, headed by Dianne Snyder, is the first stop for every new user. Sooner or later all users, like Bruce Knuteson who has worked on Fermilab experiments for six years, return to the Office to obtain more information or to file additional paperwork.
The Users Office, headed by Dianne Snyder, is the first stop for every new user. Sooner or later all users, like Bruce Knuteson who has worked on Fermilab experiments for six years, return to the Office to obtain more information or to file additional paperwork. -- Photo by Reidar Hahn
Meanwhile, the European research center CERN has an existing collaboration with Iran, one of the countries on the State Department list. The Iranian government has agreed to contribute components worth about $1.1 million to the CMS detector. Two students from Iran are currently working at CERN, and four scientists are constructing hardware in Teheran. Fermilab manages the U.S. DOE contributions to the CMS experiment at CERN, and would have to obtain prior DOE permission if Iranian collaborators wished to attend a CMS conference at Fermilab.

"To the best extent we can, we deal with all users the same way. We do not discriminate," said Rubinstein. "We realize, if getting into Fermilab remains difficult, experimenters might decide to hold future collaboration meetings at universities or other places outside Fermilab."

OTHER VISA PROBLEMS
Adding further complications are what seem to be new policies on visa applications and renewals that often hinder scientific collaboration.

"No existing U.S. visa is really appropriate for long-term international collaboration that requires non-U.S. users to frequently travel to the U.S. over a long period of time," said Chrisman. "The INS is restricting the use of the B-1 visa that Fermilab visitors frequently used. The next best thing, the J-1 visa, poses problems of its own. For non-U.S. users these are big, big issues."

Visa problems for scientists pre-date the changes effected after September 11, 2001. The previous month, the UEC had been sufficiently concerned to conduct a survey of users at several national laboratories, resulting in a request that the State Department introduce a new type of visa for visiting scientists.

"Many U.S. agencies are interested in this idea," said Rubinstein. "But since 9/11 the emphasis has been on security issues."

Heightened security concerns have slowed down visa processing. For Fermilab employees and users without U.S. citizenship, leaving the U.S. has often resulted in delayed returns, prompting some scientists to cancel their participation in meetings outside the U.S. Hiring a scientist from a foreign country is also more difficult.

"Weíve made job offers to non-U.S. citizens," said Chrisman. "There have been delays, and the process takes up a lot of time of Fermilab to deal with this."

John Marburger, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and science advisor to the President of the U.S., has spoken often about the visa issue (see FERMINEWS, Vol. 26, No. 7, April 25, 2003). At the Fermilab Usersí Meeting on June 2, he spoke about it again to more than 400 Fermilab scientists.

"This is a very serious issue that my office is working on every day," he said. "The good news is that there is the consensus of international collaboration. We are not rejecting people. There is the practical problem of not making any decision [on visa applications]. We must improve this. Iím optimistic about solving it since it is clear it needs to be resolved. We have to either do a better job at dealing with this backlog or add more people."

Either way, Snyder, Book and the Users Office will be there to do whatís needed.


ON THE WEB:

Fermilab Usersí Office:
www.fnal.gov/pub/forphysicists/users/

Guide for Newcomers from Foreign Countries:
www.fnal.gov/pub/forphysicists/users/newcomers/

Reporting Visa Status Changes:
www.fnal.gov/pub/forphysicists/users/visa_status.html

last modified 5/23/2003   email Fermilab