By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
July 27, 2007
An influential state lawmaker urged Los Alamos National Laboratory at a hearing Friday to diversify its mission to include more energy research. But the lab’s director, Michael Anastasio, told a legislative committee that Congress decides that mission, and the lab simply follows orders.
State Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, urged lab directors Friday to pay attention to what the U.S. House of Representatives has voted for this year, 312-112: less money for nuclear weapons research and development, and more for energy research around the country.
Griego, co-chairman of the Legislature’s LANL Oversight Committee, urged Anastasio to get ready for possible changes to the lab’s budget.
“I think ... that if we don’t heed to the sentiments of Congress and start moving in a direction that Sandia has moved in ... I think in the long run, Los Alamos is going to get hurt,” Griego said at the hearing.
Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque has a somewhat more diversified budget than Los Alamos.
“The mix of missions and the relative priorities change, and that’s what Congress decides every year when they pass a budget,” Anastasio said. “But I have to say that right now, the basic capability of the laboratory is paid for by the stockpile stewardship program.”
That program, which maintains the country’s nuclear weapons without underground testing, makes up 57 percent of the lab’s budget, Associate Director Terry Wallace said. About 20 percent goes to nuclear nonproliferation, 10 percent to basic science, 7 percent to energy and 6 percent to security, he said.
“It would require a significant action on the part of Congress and the Department of Energy to fundamentally change and dramatically change the mission of the laboratory,” Anastasio said. “And, of course, it would require dramatic change at the laboratory, because if we were to fundamentally change our mission, it would probably require a different skill mix of both the technical work force and the scientific work force.”
In his testimony, Wallace said, “We have the obligation ... to maintain the nuclear arsenal because we invented it.”
The lab reported this spring that its workforce of 12,176 consists of 9,066 permanent employees, 2,020 contract workers and 1,090 students and researchers. The contract work force was reduced by 401 employees from June 2006 to April 30, 2007.
U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who also wants a change in the lab’s mission, wrote to members of the oversight committee: “The process to this point must serve as a signal that change is needed if the funding — and the permanence — of the lab is to be certain.”
Udall has been criticized for voting for a House bill that would essentially cut about $400 million from weapons work at Sandia and Los Alamos, with Los Alamos bearing the brunt of the cuts to its $2.1 billion budget. However, a Senate committee has suggested restoring those cuts, and it’s unclear what the lab’s final budget will be.
Anastasio also said he’s aware that the work force and the community have a high level of anxiety about the lab’s budget, and that’s why he went to Washington this week to meet with lawmakers.
“We have to await their decisions before I can make any decision about whether there’s going to be a need to reduce the overall workforce at the laboratory,” he said.
However, there won’t be any changes this fiscal year, Anastasio said, since the lab has absorbed new costs by cutting travel and maintenance work and not filling some jobs when people leave, among other “belt-tightening” measures.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.