From Today's New Mexican.
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Ron Dolin has been working at the lab for 25 years. Dolin is organizing a rally to get public support for the work force at LANL. Photo by Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican
By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
September 12, 2007
Workers plan to assemble to raise awareness about importance of lab
Jobs are on the line in Washington. People are worried in Los Alamos. And supporters of Los Alamos National Laboratory are having a rally.
The lab’s budget is still up in the air. But Ron Dolin wants to speak his mind before Oct. 1, when the new federal fiscal year begins.
“The idea behind our rally is to just raise awareness, and we want people to just make our state and our federal delegation aware of how important LANL is,” said Dolin, an engineer who works at the lab.
The rally is scheduled for noon Sept. 21 on the east side of the state Capitol. Dolin is organizing the effort with the help of lab scientist Srinivasan Srivillputhur.
Dolin stressed he’s speaking for himself and not on behalf of the lab. He also ran for Congress last year as a Republican and lost to U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
The lab is important to national security not just for its work on maintaining the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile but also in areas like preventing other countries from getting nuclear weapons and stopping nuclear terrorism, Dolin said. “We have a niche at Los Alamos, and that’s an important niche,” Dolin said.
Lab director Michael Anastasio told employees last week to prepare for a flat budget at best and a $350 million cut at worst. The lab’s overall budget is more than $2.1 billion, and 12,115 people work there. One worst-case scenario, requested from the lab by the National Nuclear Security Administration, translated to 2,500 layoffs.
“We are early in the planning process, and I don't have many answers or even know all the questions that may be asked,” Anastasio told workers last week. “I wanted to inform you at the outset, and I will continue to keep you informed as the process moves forward.”
Dolin also took aim at his former opponent, Udall, who earlier this year attempted to restore some of the funding cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee. His amendment was defeated 121-312.
“What he did with his ill-conceived amendment was he put the entire House on record in supporting these cuts,” Dolin said. “And so now the work that Sen. (Jeff) Bingaman and Sen. (Pete) Domenici have to do is mountainous compared to what it would have been.”
Udall’s spokeswoman said his job is to look to the future. “The reality is that our nation’s nuclear footprint is shrinking, and burying our heads in the sand and pretending like after this budget cycle ends, all of LANL’s budget worries will disappear would be negligent,” Marissa Padilla said.
Domenici is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that pays for federal energy and water projects nationwide. Bingaman, a Democrat, has spoken with the Democratic chairman of that committee about the importance of the work at Los Alamos and the need to fund it.
“It is going to take some monumental work to close the gulf between the House and Senate plans for the weapons complex,” Domenici said in a statement. “The differences are as difficult as I’ve ever seen. The situation is not hopeless, but it is going to take some heavy lifting to avoid significant layoffs and mission disruptions within our nuclear weapons complex.”
The Senate has yet to approve a bill that would essentially restore the cuts to nuclear-weapons programs. After that, a conference committee consisting of House and Senate members would need to meet to hammer out the differences between the two measures.
A spokeswoman for Bingaman said it’s too early to tell what the impact on New Mexico’s economy would be.
The lab, like many federal agencies, will likely be operating this fall under a continuing resolution, which is a law passed by Congress to fund basic operation of federal facilities while Congress works out the details on final spending bills.
It’s unclear at what level the lab would be funded under a continuing resolution. The continuing resolution could be funded at current-year levels or at the lowest of the House-passed budget, Senate-passed budget or current year, a Domenici staffer said.
A retired lab scientist said people feel bad in Los Alamos, and she’s noticed more homes for sale. Santa Fe’s economy would be impacted too, Patricia Max said, as people from Los Alamos need to buy appliances, cars and furniture in Santa Fe or Española.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 986-3073 or email@example.com