Jun 12, 2007

Tom Udall: Man in the middle on laboratory cuts

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

As a newly appointed member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., found himself virtually alone last Wednesday objecting to a funding bill that contained substantial cuts for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Republicans and Democrats on the Committee approved the measure by a unanimous voice vote, based on higher priorities for energy concerns.

Immediately after the vote, Udall issued a statement defending the Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill, but also declaring his intention to defend the laboratory budget.

"My focus during the entire appropriation process is both to ensure the safety and security of the lab and the surrounding community and to make certain that the outstanding scientists at New Mexico's national labs have a fair opportunity to compete for the increased funding levels proposed for the Department of Energy's Office of Science."

But Republicans in the New Mexico Congressional delegation felt no such ambiguity.

Reps. Heather Wilson and Steven Pierce, representing Districts 1 and 2 in the state, responded with a letter to the committee chair and ranking member that calculated the cuts to the nuclear weapons programs at $630 million.

"The bill cuts nearly $500 million from Los Alamos and $100 million from Sandia. This translates into job losses of over 1,000 people to the State of New Mexico," Wilson and Pierce wrote.

Udall is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, but is not a member of the subcommittee whose recommendation the appropriations committee adopted.

Los Alamos County GOP Chair Ron Dolan, a LANL employee who ran unsuccessfully against Udall last year, criticized Udall for not doing enough.

"How this outcome could not have been obvious to everyone who voted for Udall last year escapes me," he said. "Mr. Udall was nowhere to be found when the Los Alamos contract was recently renegotiated and nowhere to be heard when the Los Alamos-designed Reliable Replacement Warhead program was punitively taken away and given to Livermore National Laboratory."

New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's office was asked for a comment on the LANL budget.

"There is a long tradition whereby the New Mexico delegation works together to secure funding for our national labs," Richardson said in a prepared statement. "It's disappointing that the Republican delegation has decided to lower itself to partisan posturing, rather than working together."

On the other side, Udall is also under pressure from antinuclear groups, who approve the committee's actions.

"Because of this bill's impact on Los Alamos, Rep. Udall stated his intention to vote against the bill when it reaches the House floor ... Wednesday," reported Devin Helfrich and David Culp of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, after watching the committee complete its work.

In an Action Alert to its 2,100-member mailing list, the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear watchdog organization, criticized the congressman for his opposition to the cuts.

"We were taken aback this week when Tom Udall spoke in the U.S. House of Representatives and in subsequent press interviews opposing cuts to the most aggressive parts of Bush's nuclear weapons agenda," wrote Greg Mello, the group's executive director. "These proposed cuts are very good news indeed ... Unfortunately, Mr. Udall is trying to stop them rather than protect and extend them."

Although funding for the Department of Energy would increase by $1.3 billion in the proposed bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, most of the weapons money would shift to energy research and nuclear nonproliferation.

Among the lab's cuts was a hold placed on construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement, for which the administration had requested $95,586,000.

Udall said he wants to see a plan for how the laboratory could get new work to boost funding that it may be losing from shrinking nuclear weapons accounts.

"The chairman committed to work with me in the weeks and months ahead to create a fair and open competitive process and to provide a mechanism to ensure our labs can compete for the funds being transferred from the weapons programs into energy and research and basic science," he stated after the committee's vote.

The bill is scheduled to reach the House floor on Wednesday, at which time amendments may be proposed. The final outcome still has a long way to go. The Senate appropriation process has yet to run its course and versions of bills passed by the two Houses will then be reconciled, to be approved by both bodies before going to President Bush for his signature.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom Udall is a political lightweight and ineffective. It is time for one of two things to happen to the third Congressional district of NM.
1) Vote out Tom Udall since he has never represented his constituency at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
2) Redistrict the state so that Tom and his liberal friends can play with themselves and Los Alamos employees can have the representation they deserve under the constitution.

Come on Tom, wake up. You want to make sure to "create a fair and open competitive process and to provide a mechanism to ensure our labs can compete for the funds being transferred from the weapons programs into energy and research and basic science". How long will that take? What makes you think those of us who have spent a career working on Nuclear Weapons are qualified for this work? You have been caught trying to ride the fence and it is time for you to be held accountable for your extreme political positions. This bill would desperately harm the economy of NM and National Security and you supported it. Shame on you! Since option 2 is intractable, we will hold you accountable with our vote.

Anonymous said...

Tom Udall has been elected - and re-elected - on his name and his ability to disapear when things get tough. He's the classic schlemiel - a dolt.

Anonymous said...

Tom Udall is not the person to blame...if you want to point fingers start with Sen Dominici who hatched (NNSA)...then got snake bit.....

Anonymous said...

While LANL brings in the most money in the district, in population LA is only a small part of the third district. Even if LA voted 100% against Udall, he would still win. Anyway, LA does vote against Udall.

So comments about voting against him are hollow, as are silly comments about LA getting its own district. LA is 1/20th of a district.

Anonymous said...

Udall is a lightweight, no question. Dolin ("Dolan" in the article) is an even bigger lightweight and a complete idiot. You are not going to defeat Udall until a credible candidate can be found to run against him.

Anonymous said...

9:17 pm:

"You are not going to defeat Udall until a credible candidate can be found to run against him."

Agreed. A consevatve friend of national security and global security through the science efforts of LANL must be found to replace the totally ineffectual Udall. He is an embarassament to LANL and to the country which needs LANL's work.

Anonymous said...

> ... Udall is ... under pressure from antinuclear groups, who approve the committee's actions.

Antinuclear groups approve the committee's actions?

WTF???!!!

Anonymous said...

I think what the poster meant was that the anitnuke groups approve of the actions taken by the committee, not that they themselves are involved in the approval process.

Anonymous said...

I remember the last time weapons funding took a downward jolt during the Clinton era of the early 90's. It lead to the RIF of 1994 and a mad scramble to put weapons scientist to work doing many non-senical CRADAs with industry. Most of the staff is too young to remember these boon-doggle efforts during the reign of Hazel O'Leary (the misguided DOE Secretary who thought that having different colored badges was discriminatory!)

Now we hear from politicians like Udall who want to suddenly convert weapons scientists into energy experts. It's "Back to the Future" time. As with the early 90's, this whole idea is probably a bad fit of both expertise and resources.

Politicians like Udall just don't get it. We are a weapons lab. We excel at doing nuclear weapons work and other specialized jobs for US national security. Any attempt to suddenly turn LANL into an energy research lab will likely meet the same dismal results seen during the industrial CRADA era of the mid-90's. Unfortunately, just like in the mid-90's, we are about to see a return to RIFs and job uncertainties as the weapons budget declines. By the late 90's, Stockpile Stewardship had revived LANL from the mid-90's doldrums. Unfortunately, even this work is now headed for cuts in funding!

The storm clouds are, indeed, getting mighty heavy over Los Alamos. I don't see much of anything that might revive the labs this time around. Congress seems intent on slapping us down hard and we have lost many former allies. Those left in power who could support us, like Udall and Bingamin, seems to offer only luke-warm support. Perhaps all we can do at this time is watch closely and reward our political friends and punish our enemies during the next election cycle.

Anonymous said...

The Clinton Administration had nothing to do with the moronically conducted RIF of 1995. The end of the cold war, i.e. the demise of the Soviet Union, led to a Congressional mandate to downsize the nuclear weapons production network. Congressional Act 3161 provided funding for the effort, which included funding for severance pay and health benefits to assist displaced workers, along with funding for economic development initiatives intended to dampen the adverse economic impact associated with the layoff of large numbers of workers. Los Alamos National Laboratory leaders however saw this as a golden opportunity to clean house...to get rid of trouble-makers if you will. The community of Los Alamos also saw this as a pot of free money to tap into for its own “economic development” ambitions. So what if many workers and their families would be displaced in the process, Los Alamos as a whole stood to benefit. But the fact was that the Lab was NOT part of the weapons production network, and therefore the downsizing projected for the weapons projected complex didn’t fit readily into the Lab’s profile. In fact, the Lab’s budget at the time was projected to increase in 1996, 1997 and beyond due the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The five year plan for the Lab, issued in October of 1995 (eve of the layoffs), showed this to be the case. That however didn’t slow down those who were hell-bent to cleaning house at the Lab and tapping into the fee pot of money Congress was offering. In short it was stupidity and blind arrogance that led to the 1995 RIF at Los Alamos. Open season was declared on whomever management had it out for, regardless of performance, seniority or merit. And so what started out as a budget-driven "downsizing" exercise, morphed at Los Alamos into a "workforce restructuring" initiative once the media had gotten wind of the Lab’s rosy funding picture. The so-called workforce restructuring initiative resulted in minorities, whistleblowers and older workers being targeted for termination at an enormously disproportionate rate and the rest, as they say, is history. This was what actually happened at the time. This should be viewed as one of Lab’s lowest of low points in history, but as usual Los Alamos seems able to forget such “indiscretions” with relative ease. And so zero accountability, which is what historically has been the case when it comes to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, nurtures arrogance. Arrogance, in turn, is what has gotten us to where we’re at today as an institution. Of course, this isn’t what folks at Los Alamos want to hear. Instead we’d rather blame Congress, the DOE, or better yet—the liberals of Santa Fe.

Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis, poster 8:36pm. Sorry if I sounded like I was blaming Clinton for the 90's RIF. I wasn't (but I greatly disliked his DOE pick, O'Leary).

Actually, I admired Clinton. He took the time to come to Los Alamos and give us a pep talk at the High School football field, which is something few Presidents ever do.

In summary, I agree, there was a lot of downsizing throughout the defense industry after we won the Cold War. In many ways, LANL got off easy. The massive layoffs of defense workers in SoCal lead to very hard times for people living there.

Anonymous said...

"Udall said he wants to see a plan for how the laboratory could get new work to boost funding that it may be losing from shrinking nuclear weapons accounts.

"The chairman committed to work with me in the weeks and months ahead to create a fair and open competitive process and to provide a mechanism to ensure our labs can compete for the funds being transferred from the weapons programs into energy and research and basic science," he stated after the committee's vote."

A plan for how the Lab could get new work to boost funding? My colleagues and I would be interested in seeing that as well. LANL successfully competing for funds? Maybe if cost is not one of the decision criteria.

It's not clear Rep Udall is quite up to speed on the fact that 45-50% of regular LANL FTEs are funded on indirect (internal tax generated) charge codes, and that "competitive" might not be the most accurate description of that cost structure.

Anonymous said...

These anonymous comments seem to be coming from people that have never truly competed for research monies. I fear that the post-Dominici years will bring about, I shudder to say it, competitive peer review. Atomic Energy Act secrecy will probable not help LANL this time, when the proposals and accomplishments are visible to competitors.
There is another problem with re-treading scientists to deliver new energy sources. They have little knowledge or experience and less than no track record of delivery. Their credentials, in other words, do not help their proposals. On the other hand, the LANL staff can be replaced with new, properly trained and experienced personnel and the State of New Mexico will be well served.

Anonymous said...

Redistricting was intended to suggest combining District 3 with District 1. This would place Los Alamos in Heather Wilson's district, someone who care's about high tech. That would allow Heather (or her successor) to deal with the technology of the state and Udall to play in his social program sand box. Without an advocate for LANL, NM is in serious trouble.

What if, we tried proving this by exercising a citizen’s strike? For a period of 2 weeks, everyone at LANL sit on your money. No eating out, no doctor's visits, no movies, no ice cream, no car parts, no babysitters, no United Way, no gas (this may be tough), ... This ought to take about $75M out of the economy which just might make the point about the impact to NM. Who knows, even Governor Bill may take notice and appreciate LANL a bit.

Anonymous said...

8:36 AM hit the nail on the head folks and all you difficult, trouble-makers better start looking for employment elsewhere because word on the street is that management is making a list and checking it twice. If you don't have an advocate in management, better say bu-bye ...

Pinky and The Brain said...

If that list ended up in my email inbox...

Anonymous said...

8:36 am:

"The so-called workforce restructuring initiative resulted in minorities, whistleblowers and older workers being targeted for termination at an enormously disproportionate rate..."

This 1995 "RIF" was indeed a "targeted" activity. Your description of the "targets" is entirely consistent with "troublemakers, unproductive workers, freeloaders, and over-the-hill deadbeats" which was actually the result of the RIF. Do you have any statistics on what demographics was actually re-hired under 3161? The 1995 RIF was a well-overdue shedding of the ever-present LANL bloat. I have seen resumes and past performance appraisals of many 1995 RIFees, and they are almost uniformly not desirable employees.

Anonymous said...

Would it be such a terrible thing if LANL got rid of 2000 trouble-makers and slackers? We have at least 2000 people in this category at the lab. Maybe our cost of business would finally head downward and the place would begin running a bit smoother. Seen in this light, maybe a RIF wouldn't be such a bad thing. However, if LANS is going to do this, they should just go ahead and do it instead of dragging it out and creating a long period of fear within the community.

Pinky and The Brain said...

LANS has done nothing about 2000 troublemakers and slackers in over a year? Wouldn't that make them slackers?

Anonymous said...

The problem is the real trouble makers and slackers were often time the managers themselves who targeted those who weren't willing to act blind, deaf, and dumb. You can try to twist the meaning all you want, but the reality is many of those terminated were more productive and cared more for the institution that many of the good old boys left alone. The moral to this story is that ignorance may be bliss, but for some at the Los Alamos National Laboratory it's a core competency.

Anonymous said...

I think the solution is obvious. We need physically move the Lab into Heather Wilson's district.

Anonymous said...

Poster 9:06 am, not a day goes by of late that I don't wish I was working down in ABQ. Selling the house would be much easier to do if I lived in ABQ and it's a much less insular community than Los Alamos. After many years of living in Los Alamos, I no longer think of it as a desireable place to live any longer. Never thought I'd get to that point, but I have.

As of now, the only way to make that transition to ABQ would be to take a job at SNL, which I would love to do if I thought I could sell my house on the Hill for a reasonable price. However, the real estate market in Los Alamos is in the doldrums and is about to come to a complete halt with these enormous budget cuts looming over the lab. Living in the town of Los Alamos and depending on a job at LANL puts a family at enormous financial risk when the bad times hit.

Anonymous said...

If we could lay off 200 of our bloated, protected-class managers, that would be helpful. However, what you'll see during a RIF is a layoff of mostly worker-bee TSMs which will result in an even worse manager-to-worker ratio.

I've never seen a place so top heavy with high paid managers as LANL. Going into management has become a means to making sure your job at LANL is secure. That's not the way it works in most parts of the business world, where the bottom line is how well you have supported your company's revenue stream. Based on that measure, most of LANL's managers would be fired.

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying reading about Udall's failure to bring certain funding to LANL. I, however, think that he would do fine if he could replace much of the existing staff with people who have not learned to operate under Domenici-type funding criteria.

Anonymous said...

Udall would do fine governing in a third world country that had no national security. The guy is clueless to the harsh realities of human existence in this world.

Anonymous said...

"Udall would do fine governing in a third world country that had no national security. The guy is clueless to the harsh realities of human existence in this world." 6/15/07 9:03 PM

Get a clue. Udall is a mindless, brainwashed Mormon cultist.