Users Office in High Demand
New DOE regulations raise concerns among users
by Kurt Riesselmann
"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
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
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."
"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
"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:
Guide for Newcomers from Foreign Countries:
Reporting Visa Status Changes:
|last modified 5/23/2003 email Fermilab|