Jul 20, 2007

Let’s hope Udall got labs’ attention

Santa Fe New Mexican
Editorial Page

OUR VIEW
Let’s hope Udall got labs’ attention

What’s this? A member of New Mexico’s con­gressional delegation casting a
vote that’s not blindly in support of Los Alamos and Sandia national
laboratories?

Yup. And LANL’s in the guy’s House district.

Democratic Rep. Tom Udall earlier this summer fought unsuccessfully to
save “ basic science” money he hoped scientists on “the Hill” would use on
alternative ­energy research. On Tuesday, he voted for an energy ­and
water appropriations bill that would cut $400 mil­lion from LANL and Sandia
during the fiscal year that starts in October.

Republican reaction was predictable: Udall’s threat­ening national
security, and his vote could lead to thou­sands of layoffs in Los Alamos and
Albuquerque.

Funny — we didn’t hear any of the latter moan from that party when LANL’s
private contractors pulled last year’s holiday-time, bottom-line-boosting
layoffs of Northern New Mexicans who do so much of the real work up there.
But now, comes the cry, some of the científicos involved in the arcane
research into purely destructive stuff might be looking over their
shoulders.

And through it all, we’re being fed the ancient line about these
brilliances’ inability to aim their expertise toward improving today’s
alternative-energy sources, or to take a strategic approach to entirely new
ones.

The scientific talent at both our state’s labs is enor­mous. To say those
people lack the flexibility and cre­ativity to step back, then study ways to
give the world sustainable energy is to cast them as mad-scientist
ste­reotypes.

The House cuts, most likely, will be restored in the Senate anyway — and
that’s both good and bad news: New Mexico’s economy won’t be dented — but
neither will the thick skulls of the hydrogen-bomber bent on churning out
even more Cold War weaponry.

To the extent that our national laboratories are secretly engaged in ways
to wipe out terrorism without killing off its hostages, or less-secretly
working to fulfill our country’s commitment to a reduced stockpile of
nuclear bombs, good for its administration and faculty.

But merely reinventing the wheel of destruction is a notion Congress isn’t
going to support forever.

From the House of Representatives have come sev­eral warnings to LANL
since last year’s election shook up Capitol Hill. Udall’s is only the latest
— but the most courageous; other representatives challenging our labs’
budgets don’t have bomb-promoting constituencies to coddle.

Did Udall, who used to lead the Democratic ticket statewide as Attorney
General, damage his chances for a senatorial run? Some Republicans are
saying so.

Udall remains unlikely to run against Pete Domenici, even with the
senator’s presently fading popularity, which has him dancing like a
gunfire-prompted dude from a Hollywood Western when it comes to the war in
Iraq.

But if he did challenge the 75-year-old Domenici’s bid for a seventh term,
he’d likely find many New Mexicans between Rodeo and Ratón who respect his
honesty and forthrightness toward the labs — and who prefer his stand on
President Bush’s war to Domenici’s early-and-often support.

Add to that our state’s, and the rest of the country’s, weariness with a
corrupt administration, and Udall has little to fear. But Republicans ought
to be quaking in their boots.

Our district’s congressman, meanwhile, is feeling his way into the
responsibilities — and opportunities — of sitting on the Appropriations
Committee. Could it be that he’s seen the futility of handing LANL a blank
check, and that he’ll be back with bills spelling out exactly what the lab
should be doing on the energy/ global warming front?

From such proposals could come a resurgent LANL.

Los Alamos has the resources — and, we think, the adaptability — to serve
the Department of Energy in a mission bearing its name.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

To the author of this editorial: You're new around here, aren't you? LANL is set in its ways as a nuclear weapons laboratory. Neither management nor staff want to change -- there have been ample opportunities in the past to branch out into other science areas of national import, and they were all rejected by LANL management.

The only way to change LANL's mission would be to lay off nearly every single person up there on the Hill, and selectively start hiring staff with the requisite scientific backgrounds and interests to support a new energy mission.

But why would you want to try to do that, when we already have a national energy lab in Colorado, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory: NREL?

Udall's suggestion that LANL change its mission was a nice, feel-good political sound bite, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

8:33,

It sounds like you may not be "new around here" but you clearly don't have any idea of how congress (note I said CONGRESS, not DOE, NNSA, BUSH, Cheney, Dr. Strangelove, or anyone else) funds and therby directs the National Laboratories. Congress decides the amount of funding provided to each Lab, and puts that money into specific bins, or acounts, to cover specific ativities. Its a CRIME to use the money from one acount/activity to do something else without a change from Congress that reallocates the money into a new account.

You have a point that there are some wild-eyed weaponeers at LANL that really prefer to work on weapons of mass destruction instead of soemthing else. I are/was one. However, you and Rep. Udall are missing the bigger point that nobody at LANL or any other National Lab gets to vote on what they work on --- only Congress gets to do that.

Anonymous said...

9:02,

You are correct, I've been around LANL for a while. I am perfectly aware that Congress (in conjunction with DOE) prepares the line items in the budget which define LANL's work mission. I am also aware that Congressman Udall was merely making a political statement designed to ease the distress of a potential $400 million budget reduction for LANL and SNL when he suggested that LLANL switch its mission to energy research. No such mission change will ever occur at LANL.

Anonymous said...

Well 8:33/9:31, If you're so aware of everything then you also have to know that the Congressman's attempt to "ease the distress of a $400 million budget cut" by suggesting that the lab switch its mission, is about as useful as pissing into the wind, and probably something that would be more appropriate coming from the "Great Enabler" (aka St. Pete).

If Udall really wants to do somehting tangible he needs to propose some actual legislation. If I'm not mistaken, other congressman have been known to sponsor legislation, and at the founding of the republic politicians were actually expected to do such things. What a concept..... a congressman who actually does something besides making suggestions to the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

9:50,

Yes I am aware of the relative worth of Udall's mission change suggestion.

I'm also aware of your snide, superior attitude, which, in fact, goes a long way towards verifying your claim of being a member of the NW program at LANL. Enjoy your superiority, while the funding lasts.

Anonymous said...

Domenici's continued support of the Bush War is immoral... time to get rid of the senile war-monger and his corrupt ties to the worst administration in history.... and he can take Gonzalez with him

Anonymous said...

Good for Udall. I know lots of people at the lab who would love to make the change to non-weapons work. I know lots of very good people who have left because they would no longer wait. Many of them were snapped up by other DOE labs, or universities, or (in one case) Norway.

So what's holding up making a change? Because institutionally, it is impossible for the DOE to change LANLs mission. Why? Because of the NNSA.

The change won't happen until LANL is out from under the NNSA. One thing we're seeing, is that the NNSA labs are slowly being converted to DOD labs in fact if not in name. DOD security and mission considerations are driving everything. Navy guys run the show.

Hence the increasing pressure on foreign nationals to leave. Science is being pushed out or killed outright. Much damage has been done, but it is not too late.

Lots of people want to see a LANL change of mission. LANL can not change its mission until the NNSA is destroyed or LANL is moved out from under it. Udall should be looking at that. The creation of the NNSA was a mistake, and its continued existence will work against a change of mission at LANL. The fix for this problem is obvious. But has anyone in DC figured it out?

Anonymous said...

1;41 PM:

Maybe you've missed the news recently. Dominici totally supporting Bush on the war - not so much. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

9:02 am:

You are absolutely correct. LANL staff work on what they are funded to work on. If the NW budget is cut, the staff will look for other work, just as they did in the Jimmy Carter "energy" years. No change of personnel is required. A physicist is a physicist. NW work isn't a specialty taught in universities - they all came with other specialties; a solid and stable funding base gets everyone's professional attention very quickly.

Anonymous said...

The US funds ex-Russian weapons scientists to make toasters just so they won't sell secrets.

If the House budget holds, they will have created a security nightmare. Will all of the 1000 out-of-work weapons scientists hold their weapons knowledge dear? Or will there be one or more disgruntled employees or opportunists like the Oak Ridge Boy? Except at LANL, no one is so stupid as to try to sell expanded nickel foam to the French.

An earmark in the budget is needed in order to smoothly make the transition away from weapons to energy or toasters. Just like the funding set aside for the Russians. Udall apparentaly can't understand something that simple.

Anonymous said...

Poster 6:06 am, I don't think blackmail against Congress will work. Don't even go there.

Anonymous said...

Udall,

Please remember your vote at election time...it will help you cope and understand why you have to move on and increase your wealth once you are out of office (just like your buddy Bill). You are supposed to help the people you represent, not jump on the Democrat agenda and try to rebuild something that has already been working. You are gone...and to think I voted for you.

Anonymous said...

Just so everybody doesn't think 10:49 AM represents everybody in Udall's district:

Congressman Udall,

Thank you for having the courage to vote for a reduction in funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory. It cannot have been easy to vote for the reduction, given that it will affect people in your voting district. However, most of us recognize that LANL has become redundant, a cold war relic.

If Congress, DOE, and LANL cannot change LANL's mission to something other than nuclear weapons research or plutonium pit production, then the entire place needs to be shut down.

Anonymous said...

When the bills are piling up on your kitchen table, your kids are doing without necessities, your wife wants a divorce due to all the financial stress and your Los Alamos house is being threatened with foreclosure by the bank, you can think about the fellow who help destroy your job and your life. His name is Tom Udall and he is your local Congressman, believe it or not.

Way to go Tom! I'm sure you'll go far in the Democratic party. Your ability to ruthlessly back stab your own citizens shows you have what it takes to make it in your party. Perhaps you'll get a Cabinet positions as head of DOE after Hillary wins the 2008 election. Then you can be in a more effective position to "shut the place down", right?

Anonymous said...

If that is how 10:49 reacts, then his wife is leaving him because of his pathetic approach to adversity, not his paycheck.

(Maybe she is leaving because of his lack of physical endowment as well)

Anonymous said...

7/22/07 5:28 PM Anonymous said...
If that is how 10:49 reacts, then his wife is leaving him because of his pathetic approach to adversity, not his paycheck. Maybe she is leaving because of his lack of physical endowment as well)

Wow, that is below the belt and sounds like something Wallace would resemble and define, along with others in our "senior" management chain ...

Anonymous said...

"(Maybe she is leaving because of his lack of physical endowment as well)" - 5:28 PM

I dunno 5:28 PM, perhaps it's just that you have an extremely big mouth. How's about we pull it out of there and then measure it to see if it meets up to your high standards of cockmanship?

Anonymous said...

Hah - 2.5 inches - beat that!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like 10:49 is, and has been, doing some poor financial planning and lacks a skill set to move elsewhere if it is required. Traits indicative of an entitlement mentality.