Jun 12, 2007

Udall criticized on LANL spending priorities

By Andy Lenderman | The New Mexican
June 12, 2007

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall is getting criticized for his opposition to the looming budget cuts facing Los Alamos National Laboratory. Udall has voiced opposition to the proposed cuts, which could result in layoffs to as much as 20 percent of the workforce. But Udall also supports diverting the mission of the lab to more energy research.

But much of the work done at Los Alamos -- roughly 57 percent, according to the lab -- is weapons related. That work employs thousands of voters in Udall's district, which includes Los Alamos, Santa Fe and all of Northern New Mexico.

Yet Democrats want less weapons and more energy research and basic science. The House Appropriations Committee has already put more money into those areas.

Udall has said he plans to vote against the 2008 fiscal year committee budget that covers the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. Los Alamos would take a $500 million hit out of its $2.1 billion budget, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has said. He also told radio reporters on Monday that laying off 20 percent of the workers at Los Alamos is not the way to get changes there. However, Domenici's office has not established specific job cut numbers.

Currently, 12,167 full-time and contract workers are employed at the lab. The 20 percent cut mentioned by Domenici would come to 2,435 people.

A vote by the full House is expected Wednesday. The Senate, which often puts more money into lab programs, is expected to release its version of the bill later this month.

Udall said that 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 to do more of that type of work in the future," Udall said in a recent interview.

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 that 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," said Adam Feldman, director of the New Mexico Republican Party, 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."

Udall's spokeswoman declined to address these concerns, and referred a reporter to his statement.

Udall said his focus during the appropriations process is to ensure the safety and security of the lab, and surrounding communities, and to make sure "that the outstanding scientists at New Mexico's national labs have a fair opportunity to compete for the increased funding levels" in science.

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

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


Anonymous said...

Is it John Fleck or John Flake? The latter may be more appropriate. Did it ever occur to Mr. Fleck when, "reflecting for a moment on the difference between the two labs," that leadership more so than mission may have been the compelling difference? A different leadership could have placed the Los Alamos National Laboratory in a better position to weather the current fiscal storm. Good leadership would have been less focused on preserving the University of California’s position (along with their own), and more focused on anticipating and preparing for the next big budget storm. Instead we acted like FEMA did in preparation (or lack of) for Hurricane Katrina. We should have been diversifying the Lab's research portfolio in other words, beginning as early as the 1990s. Global warming, along with our total dependence on dwindling or otherwise unstable sources of fossil energy, was the combined threat we needed to be gearing up to defeat as a nation and as a planet. But instead we chose to hang our hat on the same old cold war rhetoric of a bygone era, and the media has to share in the blame because of its failure, much too often, to inform people honestly and openly of what the real issues are. Fleck’s current article is classic in this regard. He panders to the Domenici crowd in his article, as opposed to facing the reality of why we’re in the fix we’re in now. For someone aspiring to be a molder of public opinion this is unforgivable. His analysis of the problem was much more than misleading, it was shameful.

Anonymous said...

Tom Udall is an unabashed disaster for NM and the Nation. He has successfully pissed off both camps by not having a position. The man lacks direction, vision, and courage. It's time to vote him out and get the representation we deserve.

I for one am not interested in competing for weapons money that he moved over to basic energy research. I am proud to have dedicated my career to nuclear weapons. The job is important. This is a scary time for the United States. By the time Russia and China have surpassed us with their nuclear weapons programs, those of us who know the business will be long gone. The good news is, our 60 MPG matchbox cars will be tough targets for our enemy’s arsenal. Good luck America. You have voted in uninformed and spineless representatives.