Feb 5, 2009

Labs Study Assailed

By John Fleck, The Albuquerque Journal

Criticism mounted Wednesday against any plan to move the nation's nuclear weapons program into the Defense Department, and New Mexico's congressional delegation vowed to fight such a measure.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., went even further, saying he would urge the energy secretary to begin consideration of eliminating the National Nuclear Security Administration and putting the program back under the Department of Energy.

The NNSA, created as a quasi-independent agency eight years ago to manage nuclear weapons design and manufacture, has been a failure, Bingaman told the Journal on Wednesday.

But the solution is not to move nuclear weapons work into the Pentagon, as the Obama administration is considering, Bingaman said. Such a move would hamper the labs' ability to do nonmilitary research, Bingaman contends.

Bingaman's comments came after the Journal reported that an internal memo shows that the Obama administration is considering the move as part of the preparation of its soon-to-be released fiscal year 2010 budget proposal.

Federal and lab officials declined to comment, but the memo obtained by the Journal outlines a study to be completed by the end of the fiscal year on the costs and benefits of shifting nuclear weapons work, including Sandia and Los Alamos labs in New Mexico, to the Pentagon.

Sandia, located outside Albuquerque, designs and maintains the non-nuclear components parts of weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. As nuclear weapons spending has declined in recent years, Sandia has been successful in expanding its work force by doing research for other federal agencies, primarily the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Sandia is also considering an expansion of its energy research as the Obama administration considers expanded funding in that area.

Los Alamos, in the mountains west of Santa Fe, designs and builds the nuclear explosive components of nuclear weapons. Its nuclear responsibilities have expanded as other arms production sites have closed. It has been less successful than Sandia at diversifying its research portfolio, but it has also been looking for opportunities to expand its work in the growing energy field.

A shift to Defense would hurt the labs' ability to work on the nation's energy problems and other nonmilitary research, said newly elected Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., whose district includes Sandia.

“I'm not going to do anything that compromises their ability to continuine doing any of that work,” Heinrich said.

Rep. Ben Ray Luj├ín, D-N.M., whose district includes Los Alamos, said a move to the Pentagon “would be extremely problematic, endangering critical research and jobs.”

The discussion is the latest attempt at finding a workable management structure for the $6 billion-a-year nuclear weapons program, which includes eight sites around the country responsible for the design, manufacturing and maintenance of the nuclear arsenal.

In 2000, in response to security and management problems, Congress, in a move led by former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., created the NNSA. The organization was “quasi-independent,” but remained under the ultimate jurisdiction of the secretary of energy.

A December 2006 report by a task force convened by the Defense Science Board, a group of independent federal advisers, concluded that the creation of NNSA had been a failure. The same problems that led to the agency's creation in the first place had simply been transferred to the new organization, the board concluded.

Among a number of possible solutions, the board said, the most attractive was to move nuclear weapons design and manufacturing out of the Energy Department and into the Pentagon.

“Given the culture of excessive oversight, micromanagement, and risk aversion without regard to productivity that has developed since the end of the Cold War, this Task Force has low confidence in the prospect for an effective and lasting change in management of the nuclear weapons enterprise within DOE,” the Science Board concluded.

Retired Sandia Labs President C. Paul Robinson, who served as an adviser to the task force, said that he supports moving the labs under Pentagon jurisdiction, and that he believes the change could be made in a way that preserves the longstanding tradition of civilian management.

The new organization could be structured to report directly to the secretary of Defense, who is by law a civilian presidential appointee, Robinson said.

“That's a key factor that ought to be in any proposal that's adopted,” Robinson said.

Former Sandia vice president Bob Peurifoy said a move into the Pentagon would pose serious threats to the nuclear weapons program's budget, because of the temptation by military officials to move money into other programs.

“If DoD became the responsible department,” Peurifoy said, “they would savage NNSA.”

[See also I'm Against It!]


Anonymous said...

Good to see the idiot Udall is on the case. Oh, he was not quoted in the article at all. That's his way of helping Los Alamos.

Anonymous said...

Get ready for a switch to DOD. Jeff and Tom do not have the horsepower to do anything but watch as we go under the knife.

We should have diversified back in the 1980"s when we had a chance, it's too late now. Can you say "Yes Sir"?

Anonymous said...

Just because he was not quoted in the article does not mean he didn't say anything, which you would know if you had read other articles. Guess he's not the only idiot.

Anonymous said...

I hear that the panic up on the top floors of NSSB is reaching crisis proportions. Hope those golden parachutes were nicely packed, boys!

Anonymous said...

So, the Obama Whitehouse is seriously thinking about moving the NNSA labs over to the DOD and LANL had a Beryllium contamination incident that might have infected over 650 VIP visitors!

What other stuff did Mikey forget to tell us about at the last All-Hands meeting? If anyone left at LANL still listens to this Director, they are a bigger fool than he.

Anonymous said...

A question for John Fleck:

Everyone keeps talking about how much more effectively Sandia has diversified compared to LANL. And yet, the front page of today's Journal North shows the following statistics:

Sandia National Laboratory
Employees: 11,167
Total Budget: $2.3 billion
Nuclear Weapons Budget: $1.1 billion

Los Alamos National Laboratory
Employees: 11,233
Total Budget: $2.1 billion
Nuclear Weapons Budget: $1.1 billion.

That puts Sandia's budget at 48% DP and LANL's at 52% DP. Hardly a difference worth mentioning, let alone hand-wringing over.

What's the story here? Is the diversification of Sandia just some kind of weird urban legend?

Anonymous said...

“If DoD became the responsible department,” Peurifoy said, “they would savage NNSA.” (News Article)

So the key customer of NNSA's products could decide they no longer needed it. What is wrong with that?

If a customer comes to this conclusion, then the customer has a right not to make a purchase. Perhaps the "product" is not so valuable, after all. Could that be Peurifoy's real fear?

Anonymous said...

"I hear that the panic up on the top floors of NSSB is reaching crisis proportions."

I heard this as well. I think they know this is a done deal.

Anonymous said...

From all of the loud squealing of the New Mexico politicians, it sounds like the famous New Mexico Pork Train is about to come to a screeching halt. The price of "the other white meat" may soon reach all time lows.

Gosh, some of the high paying jobs at LANL acquired by nepotism may soon go away if DOD takes over! The outrageous 1:4 employee-to-manager ratio may have to be moderated. And Mikey's sweet LANS supplied sports car? The lease may have to be canceled. Banish the thought!

Anonymous said...

"I hear that the panic up on the top floors of NSSB is reaching crisis proportions."

Just curious. What, exactly, are they in a panic about? Losing their jobs? Contract termination in FY11?

Anonymous said...

"What, exactly, are they in a panic about? Losing their jobs? Contract termination in FY11?" (11:00 PM)

The correct answer is (D), all of the above. You've just won a $25 dollar certificate for free food at the LANL cafeteria!

Anonymous said...

Just because he was not quoted in the article does not mean he didn't say anything, which you would know if you had read other articles. Guess he's not the only idiot.

2/5/09 5:40 PM

Gosh, you are right. Udall has really been out there with visible and meaningful, weighty support for LANL! I don't know how I could possible have missed that....

Anonymous said...

Udall, Bingamin and Lujan are completely clueless about LANL and science in general. They are all former lawyers with little or no science backgrounds.

They seem to think that LANL can instantly be turned into some type of renewable energy lab. Yeah, maybe if you get rid of 95% of the current scientists and replace them with a bunch of new hires.

In its current form, LANL is in no shape to take on major research in renewable energy. Just because you can design an atomic bomb doesn't mean you are qualified to design a highly advanced lithium battery.

Anonymous said...

8:22 pm, at least get the publicly available info correct. Lujan apparently does not have a law degree.


Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM 3rd District)

1st term Democrat from New Mexico 3rd District.

Residence: Santa Fe

Marital Status: Single

Prev. Occupation: Public Official

Prev. Political Exp.: New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, 2004-08

Education: BBA New Mexico Highlands University, 2007

Birthdate: 06/07/1972

Birthplace: Santa Fe, NM

Religion: Catholic

Percentage in Last Election: 57%

Major Opponent: Dan East

Anonymous said...

St. Pete at your service:

A federal grand jury probe of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration is focusing on the role played by recently retired Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and former senior Bush White House aides in the 2006 dismissal of David Iglesias as U.S. attorney for New Mexico, according to legal sources familiar with the inquiry.

The federal grand jury is investigating whether Domenici and other political figures attempted to improperly press Iglesias to bring a criminal prosecution against New Mexico Democrats just prior to the 2006 congressional midterm elections, according to legal sources close to the investigation and private attorneys representing officials who prosecutors want to question. Investigators appear to be scrutinizing Iglesias' firing in the context of whether he was fired in retaliation because Domenici and others believed that he would not manipulate the timing of prosecutions to help Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Our interests are being represented in Congress by one of New Mexico Highland's finest; I'll sleep well tonight. Meanwhile, a guy with real brains and talent, Steven Chu, has completely washed his hands of LANL.

Anonymous said...

A perfect storm is brewing for LANL on the political front.

The safety net which Domenici use to construct in circumstances like these will no longer be there to help cushion the fall. At best, we can hope for a massive infusion of cleanup funding for the labs, but this will do nothing for the majority of the scientists who work at LANL.