Nov 17, 2008

Energy Research Can't Fill Labs' Looming Nuke Gap

By John Fleck, Of the Journal

Ben Ray Luján looks at Los Alamos National Laboratory and sees tremendous promise.

"We have an incredible brain trust in Los Alamos that we have to protect," Luján said in an interview Wednesday, a week after his election to represent Los Alamos and much of Northern New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Luján ticked off a list of programs he thinks are important — nuclear non-proliferation, cyber security, better ways of storing energy, computer modeling of the U.S. energy grid and study of the spread of infectious diseases. Those programs need the government's support in order to flourish, Luján said.

Notably absent from Luján's list was the design of U.S. nuclear weapons and the manufacture of their explosive plutonium cores — work that makes up 67 percent of the lab's $2 billion-plus annual budget. And therein lies the dilemma. Because as New Mexicans look at the future of two of their largest employers, Los Alamos and Sandia national labs, there are wishes and there are harsh realities ahead.

The wishes involve new, expanding missions beyond the nuclear weapons work that has sustained the two labs since they were founded in the 1940s. Energy is the most often mentioned alternative. The harsh reality is that nuclear weapons remain at the core of what both labs do, and nuclear weapons face an uncertain future.

"People are already writing lots of articles out here about how the defense budget is going to take a big hit," said David Culp, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a peace group.

While the federal purse strings are likely to be clamped tight, Culp notes that there is at least one striking exception. The Obama administration, Culp said, "is clearly going to dump huge amounts of money" on energy research. The question is how much of that Los Alamos and Sandia will be able to get.

January 2009 will bring change for the labs on two fronts.

The first is the inauguration of a new president, and the process that will follow as the Obama administration articulates a nuclear weapons policy that is at this point largely undefined.

Of more immediate importance is the retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who as a senior Senate appropriator has long been the labs' fiscal guardian angel.

In recent years, that has involved an annual battle with a House of Representatives bent on cutting the nuclear weapons budget. Last summer, for example, the House voted to cut an estimated $300 million from Los Alamos' budget and another $60 million from Sandia's for the 2008-09 fiscal year. Domenici counter-punched, and in the end the fight was halted when Congress failed to pass an '08-09 budget, opting instead when the new fiscal year began Oct. 1 to continue spending at last year's levels through at least March.

What happens after that is anyone's guess. It appears unlikely that the current Congress will finish a March-through-October 2009 budget. That means the first set of decisions about the labs' financial future will be made by a Domenici-less Congress and an Obama administration.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised $150 billion over 10 years for renewable energy, and lab backers hope some of that money can flow into Los Alamos and Sandia.

But those within the federal energy establishment point to reasons why the potential may be less than New Mexico labs' backers hope.

Sandia and Los Alamos are just two among 21 Energy Department labs and research centers. Many have stood on the sidelines watching while Sandia and Los Alamos saw their nuclear weapons budgets grow, and will likely think that it is their turn now. More importantly, other labs — most notably the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado — already specialize in the sort of work the Obama administration wants to fund.

Los Alamos and Sandia may be able to get a small piece of the action, one knowledgeable insider told me, partly by partnering with other energy research centers. But it is unrealistic to expect expanded energy funding to make up for any declines in nuclear weapons spending.


Anonymous said...

"..there are wishes and there are harsh realities ahead."

LANS has done a terrible job of preparing LANL for the harsh realities that lie ahead. Weapons work, upon which LANS has placed most of their bets, is due for big cuts. This has become clear to just about everyone.

LANS has had over two and a half years to begin diversifying LANL and has done almost nothing to make the effort successful. Pits and plutonium has become the main thrusts. Many of the "best and brightest" who work in other areas have left LANL in disgust when it finally became clear to them that nothing was going to change so that WFO projects and other non weapons work could thrive at the lab.

LANS inaction in diversifying the lab will now cost Northern New Mexico thousands of good paying jobs and plunge the region into a severe economic down turn. We are about to find out just how bad things can become without Sen. Domenici around to save LANL's ass.

It's sad that Mike and company have let this game play out in this manner. They have let the workers at LANL down. There is no true leadership or boldness of action within the LLC. They take their easy profits out of the LANL operating budget and then stand back and let LANL rot away.

Anonymous said...

Obama Wrote Federal Staffers About His Goals

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 17, 2008; 1:09 PM

In wooing federal employee votes on the eve of the election, Barack Obama wrote a series of letters to workers that offer detailed descriptions of how he intends to add muscle to specific government programs, give new power to bureaucrats and roll back some Bush administration policies.

The letters, sent to employees at nine agencies, describe Obama's intention to scale back on contracts to private firms doing government work, to remove censorship from scientific research, and to champion tougher industry regulation to protect workers and the environment. He made it clear that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would have an enhanced role in restoring public confidence in the housing market, shaken because of the ongoing mortgage crisis.

...Obama wrote to employees in the departments of Labor, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs, along with the TSA, the EPA and the Social Security Administration. Defense was the only area in which he did not make promises requiring additional spending, the letters show.

Some worry that Obama may have overpromised, with program changes and worker benefits that would be impossible to achieve. "That strikes me as smart politics," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "We'll soon find out if he can deliver when he has to deliver his first budget."

...While pledging money to some agencies, Obama also acknowledged that some cuts may be unavoidable.

"Because of the fiscal mess left behind by the current Administration, we will need to look carefully at all departments and programs," he wrote to HUD workers.

Gage said Obama would cut deeply into agencies he finds lacking, and the National Taxpayers Union says there is plenty of opportunity for savings. Congress last year refused to consider a 25 percent cut for 220 federal programs the government rated as ineffective, passing up a savings of $17 billion a year. Obama did not vote on the measure while he was a senator from Illinois.

...Obama also took aim at the Bush administration's focus on privatization, with contractors hired to perform government jobs -- often at princely sums. He complained that a $1.2 billion contract to provide TSA with human resources support unfairly blocked federal employees from competing to do that work.

"We plan specifically to look at work that is being contracted out to ensure that it is fiscally responsible and effective," he told HUD workers. "It is dishonest to claim real savings by reducing the number of HUD employees overseeing a program but increase the real cost of the program by transferring oversight to contracts. I pledge to reverse this poor management practice."

Gage said he is not expecting every civil servant's wish to be granted but he is hopeful.

"I think Obama's going to be fair, he's going to take seriously the missions of these agencies, and he's going to respect federal employees," Gage said. "After the last eight years, that's good enough for me."

Anonymous said...

It is clear that Obama will grow the government workforce. He is buying votes with out taxes.

How will this be paid for?

Anonymous said...

"Defense was the only area in which he did not make promises requiring additional spending, the letters show."

Hint, hint! The writing is on the wall for all to read.

Anonymous said...


LANS's apparent marching orders, from before the contract was signed, were "Get rid of the science, downsize the nuclear weapons production, and pretend to clean up the environmental mess."

These orders have been clear for years.

Also, there is no in loco parentis here nor has their been for decades.

What has continued complaining actually accomplished? And, why do commenters continue to talk about things that were fait accompli long ago?

Anonymous said...

Not only is the weapons budget going to become smaller, the "lack" of money to spent is getting much smaller. The Congress wanted to cut us 300 million, that was before the ecomonic crisis, what will they decide in Jan. 09?

Anonymous said...

Is your house on the market?

Anonymous said...

11/17/08 12:36 PM:

The money will come from the same place as the bailout money and future entitlements: from thin air.

Look at the collapsing economy and ask yourself if a fully Dem controlled government will show any spending restraint whatsoever? They will have to be very forceful to push money into out economy, and the labs, ALL OF THEM, are one of the premier conduits.

Anonymous said...

LANL should not get a penny of this work until something is done about the bloated overhead.

Anonymous said...

Bloated overhead is what makes LANL unique and special as a lab. What, you thought it was all about the science?

Anonymous said...

Does LANL even have a real Director any longer? You could fool me. Mikey seems to be in hiding most of the time.

Anonymous said...

8:03, I generally agree with your pump funds into the system take. Unfortunately, I would guess nuclear weapons is one of the few areas where this might not happen.

Anonymous said...

Congress wants Americans to get a good education to obtain high tech jobs in science... except at their very own national labs, where they will now cut the budgets and lay these same people off. Go figure?

Anonymous said...

If our future is in the hands of such intelligencia as Ben Lujan and Tom Udall, then we better learn to say "...would you like fries with that shake"! Alternatively, the future might be bright in the area of designing and constructing fallout shelters because once these anti-nukes gut the only thing that has kept America out of harms way for 50 years, the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, and other countries (that are still building an modernizing their nuclear weapons) will push the world into another cold war. With that said, just wait until Bin Laden gets his hands on the bomb. It is far cheaper to spend billions on the nucelar deterent than the trillions to have a large army and navy.

Anonymous said...

The party of Peace and Love is about to get a hard lesson on the nasty realities of the outside world. If the Democrats wish to weaken US defenses, then they must also be prepared to take the blame when the next big hit comes calling on America (and it will).

The US has been attack-free since 9/11. We'll soon get to observe if a Dem controlled Congress and Whitehouse can continue this fine record of performance. Downsizing our strategic weapon research labs and letting all this hard won scientific expertise walk out the front door may not be such a smart idea.

Are you listening carefully Mr. Obama, Sen. Udall, Sen. Bingamin, and Congressman Lujan? The next election in only 2 years away.

Anonymous said...

11/21/08 1:23 PM

I agree in your comment. I have previously written, June, 2008:

If Barack Hussein Obama is elected the next US president, November 4, 2008, sworn in January 20, 2009, 12 PM (=12 Noon) EST, my predictions:

(1) He will severly hurt DOE/NNSA and the National labs.

(2) He will severly hurt DoD.

(3) He will NOT (99.99% certainty) execute a pre-emptive US strike against the nuclear weapons program in Iran. (He will leave the pre-emptive option (if president George W Bush doesn´t act against Iran), totally to Israel, and probably not support a future Israeli attack against Iran.)

(4) As a consequence, Israel will be isolated, and increasingly threatened by Iran, and their nuclear weapons ambitition, as well as a weakened position of US power in the World.

(5) He will risk to be the 2nd term of president Jimmy Carter. (Jimmy Carter redux.)

(6) Obama is not only naive, he is VERY naive, with the consequence of increasing risks of future terrorists attacks against US, and the West in general.

(7) Obama doesn´t understand the concept of "Know thy enemy," especially when he says: "Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct, presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." (

(7.1) If a meeting between the President Obama and President Ahmadinejad occur, Obama risk to be the 21st Century version of Prime-Minister Chamberlain, e.g. to appease the enemy, i.e. Iran, and strengthen the power of Iran, and weaken US, and Israel, and the West in general.

(8) Obama has a Kantian worldview, i.e. idealistic worldview, as opposed to the Nietzschean worldview, i.e. "The will to power.", thus its naivite.

(If Obama was a chessplayer - he would be easy to read, if he was a pokerplayer - he would be even easier to read, he can´t bluff.)