Jun 28, 2007

The problem with nuclear weapons policy is in your state and his name is Pete Domenici

I've been feeling this way about St. Pete (The Pork) Domenici for some time now.

From this Albuquerque Tribune commentary comes a great tag line:

As one Republican appointee said to us, "Why have you come to see me? The problem with nuclear weapons policy is in your state and his name is Pete Domenici."



Commentary: Nuclear weapons, labs hurt New Mexico's economic, social performance

Greg Mello
Thursday, June 28, 2007

With little debate recently, the House of Representatives endorsed a spending plan prepared by its Appropriations Committee which would cut U.S. nuclear warhead programs overall by 6 percent.

It would also halt a major Bush Administration initiative to build new warheads; stop the construction of a new plutonium warhead core, or "pit," factory at Los Alamos National Laboratory; and cut funding for pit making by half.

Los Alamos, and to a lesser extent Sandia National Laboratories, would bear the brunt of these cuts, should they become law.

The detailed House plan redirects funds cut from Department of Energy weapons programs toward preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting renewable energy.

Each member of the New Mexico congressional delegation opposed these shifts. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Silver City Democrat, was relatively mute. Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both of Albuquerque, said the sky would fall if the cuts were adopted, but took no action. "St. Pete" Domenici, will do his best to restore funding in the Senate.

Rep. Tom Udall, a Santa Fe Democrat, opposed the proposed spending plan in committee, but was the sole voice on the 56-person Appropriations Committee to do so. Later, he offered an amendment on the House floor to restore $192 million in nuclear weapons spending, specifically for Los Alamos, but it lost by a wide margin.

For the Senate, it will be the first nuclear spending plan since 1994 that will not be under Domenici's direct influence.

A third powerful actor this year is the White House, which has said it will veto the current bill, primarily because it would spend too much money.

Whither nuclear weapons policy, then? As three congressional committees have noticed, the United States has no coherent nuclear policy even now. This lack of clarity led the House to put the reins on the most expensive and controversial parts of the Bush nuclear agenda.

It's dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future (as Yogi Berra said), but here's one: five years from now there will still be no coherent U.S. nuclear policy. This is because the underlying contradictions in U.S. nuclear weapons policies run very deep.

The only policy compatible with nonproliferation treaty commitments is a commitment to complete nuclear disarmament. While the American people support our disarmament obligation and choose disarmament above other policies in the polls, Congress does not.

There is a consensus on the direction on nuclear forces, spending and infrastructure that is downward. A wide range of relevant actors, from the left to the right, favor a smaller nuclear arsenal, lower annual expenditures and smaller warhead storage centers.

Nuclear weapons are not popular in the military. An administration official said if the military had to pay for nuclear warheads, there wouldn't be any.

Who promotes nuclear weapons? It has been three nuclear weapons labs that promote them most - they and members of Congress associated with their locations, with Domenici in the lead.

As one Republican appointee said to us, "Why have you come to see me? The problem with nuclear weapons policy is in your state and his name is Pete Domenici."

In New Mexico there are serious political, economic and social consequences from these loyalties. Domenici's role in obtaining nuclear pork-barrel spending for New Mexico is now considered so inviolate by New Mexico Democratic Party leaders that they consistently fail to seriously challenge him either rhetorically or electorally. After all, they too depend on lab employees for political contributions.

Behind the mask of party pluralism, the loyalty of New Mexico political elites to the nuclear labs gives an uncontested seat to the deeply conservative Domenici for as long as he wants it. The labs' influence extends elsewhere. Through our bipartisan devotion to federal nuclear pork, the labs create a strong right-of-center tug on New Mexico politics.

This strong pull to the political right has implications across a wide range of New Mexico issues, especially on our state's economic and social performance. It goes a long way toward explaining why our relative economic performance as a state has fallen in a direct proportion to rising laboratory spending. Both trends coincide, more or less, with Domenici's Senate tenure.


Anonymous said...

Well, what do you expect from Greg Mello?

GussieFinkNottle said...

More, unfortunately, than I expect from the average LANL staff person.

The comments one sees on this and previous LANL blogs reminds me of one of my favorite Pogo cartoons, by Walt Kelly:

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."



Anonymous said...

POGO for Pres!

Anonymous said...

Mello says "The only policy compatible with nonproliferation treaty commitments is a commitment to complete nuclear disarmament."

So, is he in the employ of the North Koreans?

From Mello's statement,I think that we can all understand why he is considered to be the village idiot.

Anonymous said...


Get rid of Domenici.

Lose the pork.

Get poorer.

Then what?

Anonymous said...

Then save your soul...that's what. There are other ways to earn a living besides supporting world domination through the development and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction. The planet is burning up, running out of fossil fuels, facing the threat of world wide climatic changes that will result in mass starvation and widespread disease. And we can't do anything better with the resources of the Los Alamos National Laboratory? Wake up! Time's running out my friends.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Gussie, Amen.

Anonymous said...

'Then what?' was not specific enough.

It meant -

Then what happens to the economy of Northern New Mexico or of New Mexico?
Then what happens to national security and the economy of the U.S.?
Then what happens to all of the people, highly trained and not so highly trained, who no longer have jobs?
Then what happens to the plutonium that is stored in the state?
Then what happens to the bombs?
Then what defenses do we have against the terrorists who want to die while killing the infidel?


Anonymous said...


You seem to be laboring under the misconception that the continued existence of LANL is essential to maintaining a viable nuclear weapons stockpile. Sadly, as should be increasingly obvious, that is not the case.

The only rational argument for keeping LANL alive these days is that doing so would prevent economic hardship from coming to Los Alamos and parts of Rio Arriba counties.

Anonymous said...

Go to any US military commander over in Iraq. Ask them the following question:

"Which would you rather have? A shiney new nuke with 150 kt power, or a dozen UAVs to patrol the skies?"

The UAV would win every time. Nukes are not desired or required by the modern US military. We only need a few of them, kept in good condition. With limited budgets, the US military is far more interested in weapons that can save the lives of their troops and monitor the islamic fanatics, like UAVs, ceramic armour, light weight but IED safe vehicles, etc. LANL has expertise in the material science and computer science for some of this stuff. LANL should reduce the nuke work, which no one really wants to finance, and move into technology that can help modernize the US military and support homeland defense. If we keep trying to live in the past by relying too heavily on nuke work, we are going to sink downward with the shrinking nuke budgets. It's long past time for LANS to take action and start moving the lab towards a new path, but the dinosaurs at LANL just don't want to let go. LANL does some of this alternative national security work already, but not nearly enough. It needs to be drastically ramped up.

Anonymous said...

8:28am, you forgot one - the sky is falling.

Anonymous said...

12:21PM Cute...dumb, but cute.

Anonymous said...

".....the labs create a strong right-of-center tug on New Mexico politics." Wow, that's a relief. Just think how liberal Santa Fe would be if not for that tug.

Anonymous said...

See (click here) Regarding diversification (that is to say, work diversification) and the few blog posts after that. For the most part, LANL can only work on what Congress has authorized. There is some wiggle room to try new research directions, but not much.

It really comes down to "What does Congress want LANL working on?"

Anonymous said...

You seem to be laboring under the misconception that the continued existence of LANL is essential to anything, it is not. As far as the economy of northern New Mexico open your eyes when you leave the "hill" and look around. That my good people is grinding poverty and your "bright shining spot on the hill" hasn't done a thing to help it (other than polute it for eternity). So, yes, most of us from the north would be just as happy to see you arrogant butt-heads go bye-bye.

Anonymous said...

And bye-bye to the Hill would do what for the grinding poverty?

Anonymous said...

"For the most part, LANL can only work on what Congress has authorized. There is some wiggle room to try new research directions, but not much." (1:45 pm)

I'm tired of hearing this lame excuse. Less than half of SNL's work now involves nuclear weapons. They didn't let Congress stop them from diversifying. They just did it, and thank goodness they did. Today, they are in far less danger than LANL. If LANL wants to diversify into other areas of national security they can do it without asking Congress "Mother, may I?". So far, however, I've seen only lip service from LANS about diversifying. I don't think they are truly interested in reducing the mix away from nuclear weapons work. LANL would be in far safer shape if we had a mix of 50% weapons, 20% DOE Office of Science work, and 30% WFOs (primarily involving national security). A mix like this is achievable in the next 5 years if we start working towards it today. Part of the plan would be to reduce FTE costs so that we can better utilized DOE and WFO funding. Let NNSA pay $500 K for a TSM, but drop the rate to a more sane level, say $280 K, for the non-weapons TSM work.

Anonymous said...

"They didn't let Congress stop them from diversifying. They just did it . . ." What have you been smokin'? It just doesn't happen that way. However, if SNL maintains a better relationship wih Congress (and perhaps the rest of the world), they are afforded opportunities to develop other avenues. We on the other hand prefer to look down our noses, continue to find ways to get into the media, blame just about everyone but ourselves for our problems, and then expect respect! Not much of a way to get ahead!

Anonymous said...

What have I been smoking? Come on, now. Do you really think we need to ask Congress if LANL can handle more DOE Office of Science work and WFOs that involve national security? We already do this work and have the ability to amp it up a bit further. It would not be outside of our lab charter.

Stop making excuses for why LANL has so much nuclear weapons work. It doesn't have to be this way, but I suspect this may be the way you really prefer it.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the lab to be meaningful and successful. Our current path doesn't seem to get us there. For the record, I'd love for us to do more real science, but first we have to keep the lab alive.

Anonymous said...

(6/29/07 1:45 PM here, replying to 6/29/07 8:40 PM) You make very good points, but the problem does break down into two areas. Udall says we should redirect our efforts into other areas, implying that we should have redirected a substantial portion of our budget into other topics. We can't. Those funds are directed by Congress. And Congress continues to complain that even LDRD is bad, because they did not direct what that research should be.

But I absolutely agree that we should have grown our base of non-NNSA work. Almost all of my funding over the years has been WFO GOV and non-GOV, that I or a close colleague personally negotiated. But even our DOE Office of Science customers became dismayed at the overt and hidden costs of the Nanos shutdown, and today's higher overhead.

If NNSA were committed to "its" lab doing WFO, then they could easily restructure the TSM costs to fall in line with your $280K proposal. Instead, they actually increase the G&A for WFO, add program office taxes that were never involved in the negotiations, and add a few points of DOE ABQ field office taxes as well, so that the costs are substantially greater for WFO than for DOE Weapons! The Weapons programs even get a break on the Facility tax, so that other programs pay more!

It should be the other way around. We should directly charge NNSA for all of the infrastructure and support associated with the Weapons work, and let WFO come in only at the incremental costs of adding outside work. For instance, the idea of making a virtual university within the larger organization has been proposed as one financial mechanism for allowing research to be conducted here at dramatically lower overheads. But the idea goes nowhere. Under LANS, the G&A on "science" projects was dropped 2% and widely lauded, but they seem to miss the bigger picture that our costs are still grossly uncompetitive.

Sitting way down in the trenches, I don't know what combination of Congress, DOE, NNSA, and LANL/LANS Upper Management makes these financing decisions on the way "their" lab should be run, but the net result is that every WFO project we brought in was fought through the system, rather than supported by it. The overhead we generated was sucked off into the abyss, and today we are told to expect both greater overhead costs with less support and more direct charging of incidentals to our programs.

So the Weapons side is constrained to do the work dictated by Congress through its appropriations to DOE/NNSA. The WFO side is greatly hampered by NNSA's lack of desire to be competitive in drawing in work.

Anonymous said...

6/30/07 11:14 AM Clearly illustrates how DOE/NNSA have proven that they do not want LANL to do WFO. Udall's empty encouragement for LANL to diversify is just that: a politician's vacuous words designed to imply support for LANL without actually providing any.

DOE has never been supportive of WFO at LANL, nor will they ever be.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has brought in WFO funding for many years, I'm becoming very dismayed at what I see happening at LANL. LANL loves to tax the incoming funds to death, but seems completely unsupportive of WFO efforts and the people who labor to bring in this funding. It becoming a loser's game. Why bother any longer if your own management could care less about FTE rates of $450 K and soon going higher using stealthy new "direct" charges?

LANS management talks about diversification but is completely clueless on how to achieve it. With weapons funding getting ready to decline either this year or next, I think the whole funding house of cards is getting ready to collapse. LANL is probably going to be a much smaller operation in the next few years. Perhaps LANS really is nothing more but the NNSA designated "clean up" crew.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, Domenici only see's as far as the end of his nose, (with glasses)