Jun 12, 2007

Both sides lambaste Udall on LANL budget

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
June 12, 2007

A nuclear-weapons watchdog group is blasting U.S. Rep. Tom Udall for opposing looming budget cuts at Los Alamos National Laboratory. New Mexico Republicans, meanwhile, are laying into the Santa Fe Democrat for not doing enough to stop those cuts.

Udall has voiced opposition to the proposed spending slowdown, which some New Mexico lawmakers warn could result in an undetermined number of layoffs by one of the region’s major employers.

But Udall supports diverting the lab’s mission toward more energy research. Most work done at Los Alamos is related to weapons or national security.

That work employs thousands of voters and supports numerous businesses in Udall’s district, which includes all Northern New Mexico.

Udall has raised concerns about the 2008 budget covering the U.S. Department of Energy, which includes Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico.

Democrats in Congress want less weapons spending and more energy research and basic science. The House Appropriations Committee has already allocated more money toward those areas of federal spending.

A vote by the full House is expected today. The Senate, which often puts more money into lab programs, is expected to release its version of the bill later this month. And the president must also approve the measure before it becomes law.

It’s unclear how much could ultimately be cut from Los Alamos at this point in the appropriations process.

Staffers for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Los Alamos could lose $500 million compared to the president’s 2008 fiscal year budget request. That includes slashing funds for construction of a nuclear chemistry lab, plutonium pit manufacturing and advanced simulation computing, among other programs.

But Don Hancock of the Southwest Research Information Center said the cuts will be less than $500 million.

Currently, 12,176 full-time and contract workers are employed at the Los Alamos lab. That includes 9,066 permanent workers, 1,090 students and researchers, and 2,020 contractors, the lab has reported.

Udall said the private company that manages the lab, Los Alamos National Security LLC, must diversify its mission to compete for the new energy research money.

“The national labs are in a great position to tackle those challenges and make a contribution, and I hope to see the lab do more of that type of work in the future,” Udall said in a recent interview.

While New Mexico Republicans ripped into Udall for not doing enough to stop the cuts, anti-nuclear-weapons activists like Greg Mello at the Los Alamos Study Group say Udall is implicitly supporting President Bush’s pro-nuclear agenda, and he’s trying to have it both ways.

Mello and New Mexico Republicans have launched public attacks laying into Udall’s maneuvering on the matter.

“Udall has no cop out in this matter,” Adam Feldman, director of the New Mexico Republican Party, said in an unusual broadside last week. “Make no mistake — this is a failure on the part of Tom Udall, and it affects one of the largest employers in New Mexico and a very vital part of our economy and national security.”

Mello sent out an “action alert” to his group’s 2,100-person mailing list, urging them to lobby Udall to vote for the House Appropriations Bill.

“We’re disappointed that Tom Udall is not supporting this markup, which moves money out of nuclear weapons and into renewable energy,” Mello said. “This is exactly the kind of thing … he has said he stands for. And there is no other way to get renewable energy money in the (Department of Energy) budget than by taking it out of something. And that something is nuclear weapons.”

Mello also questioned the impact of the lab on New Mexico’s economy, and said he supports spending that money elsewhere.

Udall’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the congressman’s office does not respond to attacks from the Republican Party, “and you’d have to be living in a fantasy world to think what Tom Udall did last week is somehow supporting the status quo regarding weapons programs,” spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said. “Tom Udall must be doing something right when he’s getting hit from the right and left, but he’s going to continue fighting for the future of the lab and Northern New Mexico by working to diversify the lab’s mission and making sure the lab’s outstanding scientists can compete fairly for all this new money.”

Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or alenderman@sfnewmexican.com.


Anonymous said...

It is time to get other funding besides weapons related money, this is coming to an end. Short term we may miss the bullet, but long term this place is becoming a relic of the past. It will down-size starting this year or next we are fighting an uphill battle for the enormous amount of funding needed to maintain the current workforce...and I hear the overhead is going up .....past the 400K mark per FTE, wow!how can anyone justify that to anyone....
Our priorities in Washington are changing and so shouild we...(I think we should have done this a long time ago)...

Anonymous said...

This was the danger a decade ago, shall we put all of our collective egg's in one large basket or diversify part of the lab into Energy , our management chose to go with the big money.....they are now retired or ready to, so for them it worked out very well indeed, but now for the coming generation, we will need to downsize and create a much more productive and diversified lab, the funding will not be as easy to get as in the past, but we need to start right now, not next funding cycle.....What do you think Mikey?

Anonymous said...

The current FTE rate at LANL is ~$450,000.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:07

The current labor rate for TSMs earning over $150,000 salary is $450,000 with fringe benefits and overhead. For others, including group management, it is lower.
The current rule of thumb is 3 FTEs per $1M. It is lower for more senior management (division leaders, etc.), mainly because much of the overheads do not apply.

Anon 12:45

As Anastasio said today during the Q&A after his "celebration" all hands meeting, EVERYTHING we do is at the whim of Congress. Neither We nor He can just bring in other funding sources unless someone has a back door into industrial (non-government) work-for-others. But why would any such industry want to give us $200M for ~600 people's effort? There would have to be a business reason, probably better served by hiring away the usable staff for a net lower cost, even if the salaries stayed the same.

The "one large basket" we are in (nuclear weapons) was woven around us essentially by DOE, NNSA and Congress, with the special help of our esteemed (or is it steamed) Senator Pete. We cannot diversify without their help (as galling as that may be!).

Anonymous said...

The rates for non-TSM staff (SSM, AS/GS/OS, TEC) are also much lower per capita even post-overheads.

So the highest rate ($450k/person) is only for the "bloated salary" senior scientists.

Anonymous said...

"Hey, we're expensive and we're worth it!"

That would be a much better motto than the "worlds best science" crap.

Anonymous said...

As someone who's been around for 30 years, this is deja vu all over again. Anyone remember the push for "energy research" in the 70's under Carter? Many LANL TSMs were still trying to milk that dead cow in the mid-80's and were getting RIFed as the weapons program re-emerged. Later, "Star Wars" got upper management attention as it threatened to surpass the weapons program and chew up its resources (LANL designers who thought the grass was greener on the SDI side of the fence). They too fell victim to RIFs in the mid-90s. All of this will be repeated, as we (the nation and Congress) never learn from our mistakes. The nuclear weapons program was, is, and will be the primary LANL fucntion and responsibility. It will be so again, although the interim will cost some careers and some families greatly. Been there, done that (no T Shirt).

Anonymous said...

Sen. Domenici's idea was to fund the lab with the "Big Bucks'and up to now it (LANL) did very well. We, knew and so did Sen. Pete that this type of funding would come to an end , the only un-known was when. Northern New Mexico, is alive and well because of the federal buck....for better or worse that's where we are. Now the big question is, where to from here, as one poster stated :we are at the mercy of Congress and NNSA, not a good start, but I belive that our management could have some clout in these decisions, (if they are allowed).

Anonymous said...

I've got an idea! Why doesn't the lab try to compete for funding outside the DOE? We've been reading of brilliant LANL ideas for years like the Plasma enabled gasoline engine, beams in space, R&D 100 awards and laser-driven fusion power.
If all these "breakthroughs" were just public relations fakery, the time has come to tell the truth before LANL asks for more funding. Has the public been fed 50 years of lies? Where's the beef?

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to have a recall on a Congressman? If so, I think the people of Los Alamos should start signing recall petitions on Congressman Udall.

At the very least, we need to make sure that another, more pro-LANL Democrat runs against him and wins in the next Dem primary. Udall has be a total disaster for Los Alamos County and he needs to start feeling the political wrath of the voters in this community because of it.