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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Military Control of Labs Studied

By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

The Obama administration is considering moving Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, along with the rest of the U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing complex, out of the Department of Energy and into the Defense Department, according to an internal memo obtained by the Journal.

Such a change would end more than six decades of civilian management of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The move, if it goes forward, would not happen until at least 2011, according to the memo from the Office of Management and Budget outlining plans for a study of the costs and benefits of the move.

Officials across the government — at the labs and the federal agencies involved — declined comment Tuesday, saying the document in question is part of internal government deliberations.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., released a statement Tuesday evening saying he spoke to OMB chief Peter Orszag on Tuesday to register his concerns about such a move.

"I think this is a very shortsighted approach, and I will fight it tooth and nail if they intend to proceed with it," Bingaman told Orszag, according to the statement. Bingaman is chairman of the Senate energy committee.

According to the statement, Bingaman said that because the labs do more than defense work, a shift to the Pentagon would damage their ability to do their jobs.

The undated OMB memo lays out a plan for a study to be done by the end of September on the costs and benefits of moving the National Nuclear Security Administration under the jurisdiction of the Pentagon.

It is too early to say what effect any such change would have on the more than 20,000 people in New Mexico who work for Sandia and Los Alamos.

The team studying the possibility of a change will include representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department "and other major NNSA stakeholders," according to the memo.

The policy of civilian management is rooted in a World War II decision by top Manhattan Project scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer to have the design of the first nuclear weapons done by civilian scientists, rather than military officers.

A shift to military management of the weapons program "would be very dramatic," nuclear weapons historian Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the possibility of the weapons program being moved to the Pentagon.

In the years immediately after World War II, government officials concluded that the "ultimate weapon" should be left under the care of civilian leadership, rather than the military.

The weapons program was first entrusted to the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1975, a new agency was created, known as the Energy Research and Development Administration. That was followed in 1977 by the creation of the Department of Energy, where nuclear weapons development and manufacturing reside today.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration tried and failed to shift the weapons program to the Pentagon, Norris said.

The latest management change came in 2000, when Congress created the National Nuclear Security Administration to oversee the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The new agency was created as a quasi-independent body, but remained within the Department of Energy, under DOE jurisdiction.

The discussion echoes congressional testimony last year by C. Paul Robinson, former president of Sandia National Laboratories and a senior adviser to the U.S. government on nuclear weapons issues.

In written response to questions from members of the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces subcommittee, Robinson said he thought a shift to Pentagon management of the labs should be considered.

Robinson said in a phone interview Tuesday that he has long supported civilian management. But in recent years, he said, "short-term upheavals" as different administrations come and go, repeatedly changing the direction of the weapons program, have made its long-term management a problem.

"The presence of a uniformed military could provide a continuity that has been lacking," Robinson told the House Armed Service Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Robinson complained that the 2000 decision to create the National Nuclear Security Administration has been a failure.

"It hasn't worked," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion on the LANL Blog...

Anonymous said...

Well, the Labs are already dead. But revenge will be sweet.

Seeing GM in a courts martial would be nice as well.

Anonymous said...

Robinson is right that NNSA has been a failure. All Congress did was take the same retards that couldn't manage the Labs as DOE and gave them new office symbols and letterhead.

Anonymous said...

Do it!
Do it!
Do it!!!

Anonymous said...

Word is that NNSA is really freaking out over this whole idea. They'll probably do whatever they can to kill it quickly, before it has a chance to spread. Lots of vested interests are at stake here.

Anonymous said...

They'd better not spend a decade doing studies. Action is needed now.
Dont worry about GM; he is waiting for his 3rd year with LLNS so he can have a healthy HAPC before he retires! He hates it here.

Anonymous said...

"Dont worry about GM; he is waiting for his 3rd year with LLNS so he can have a healthy HAPC before he retires! He hates it here."

...The current lab is what GM helped make it.

Anonymous said...

This is the best news I have heard yet. I only wish it would happen in the next few years. It should have always been under DoD. Lets get a move on and t get this transition done ASAP.

Anonymous said...

What happens to the famous DOE "substantially equivalent benefits" promise if DOD decides to take over the labs?

Anonymous said...

First, we get moved over to a broken NNSA. Then we get shoved off to a greedy, for-profit LLC. Now we hear that we will soon be passed off to DOD.

The rate of decline is quickly gaining speed at LLNL.

Anonymous said...

February 6, 2009 9:47 AM

Working for DOD wasn't bad, you'll just be a WG or GS and hope you qualify for the next positon after someone dies or retires. The same old buddy games work there as they do at LLNL under UC or LLNL under LLNS. SOSDD is the name of the game.

Anonymous said...

All of NNSA promises will be worthless when NNSA disappears. Even if this initiative doesn't make it, something will in the not distant future. Congress is realizing how incompetent NNSA really is.

Ironically, the rest of DOE, outside of NNSA, can't stand NNSA either. With a new Secretary and new administration, the time is ripe--if the economy doesn't occuppy all Congressional attention.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu just announced that he is going to recluse himself from much of the decision making over LANL and LLNL. Very interesting, no?

Anonymous said...

Secretary Chu's decision to recuse himself from a narrow range of issues related to LBNL, LLNL and LANL is not at all unusual given his recent employment by UC. Analogous to a DoD secretary that just came in from a defense contractor would not be the awarding official for some procurement bid on by their former employer.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post from the LANL Blog

Moving NNSA to the civilian side of the Department of Defense could be a positive step towards repairing and improving the nations nuclear weapons complex. I hope that OMB will explore and recommend an option that makes the most sense for those affected by such a change. NNSA and most of its contractor run facilities could be moved from DOE to DOD, but thought needs to be given to the details. As a 20+ year veteran of the complex I'd suggest this approach:

Pantex Plant - This is a facility with a clear single NNSA mission of handing nuclear weapons, something that DOD would have no problems overseeing.

Kansas City Plant - This is a manufacturing plant with a single NNSA mission that DOD would have no problems overseeing.

Nevada Test Site - DOD already oversees large training and testing reservations with lots of hazards, so adding NTS would not pose major issues.

Y-12 National Security Complex - As the sole facility for uranium used in weapons and naval reactor, having it within DOD is not a problem.

Savannah River Site - This is already a split site with part controlled by NNSA and part by DOE. With the clear lines of separation between activities already established, moving to DOD would pose minimal problems.

Sandia National Laboratories - A significant portion of SNL's WFO portfolio is DOD sponsored work. So keeping this engineering lab in an NNSA that is under DOD would probably be a benefit to SNL. It would be similar to MIT's Lincoln Lab and become much more of a military engineering research and development lab. As a DOD lab located on an Air Force Base, I could easily see SNL doubling the amount of work it received from the military.

Los Alamos National Laboratory - The best option would be to split LANL into two separate and distinct national labs; one focusing on science and research under the DOE, with the other a defense weapons science lab under NNSA in DOD. LANS would continue to operate the defense lab under its existing NNSA contract, while DOE would keep many existing LANL facilities and create a new national science lab in Los Alamos under the DOE Office of Science. I could even imagine a winning bid to run the new science lab from a Univ of Calif/Univ of Texas/Univ of New Mexico/Battelle not for profit LLC consortium.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - A bit more problematic than the rest. Splitting this lab like LANL is not viable given this lab's small physical size. NNSA has told LLNL management that if it wants to survive it will have to significantly increase its WFO and non-NNSA work. LLNL is losing all of its SNM in the next few years, and is becoming more known for its high power laser and supercomputing work. LLNL also does a sizable amount of direct work for the Dept of Homeland Security. So I would keep it in DOE under the Office of Science, and allow it to support an NNSA in DOD as WFO.



Anonymous said...

What was shocking about Dr. Chu's recuse statement was the level at which he will enforce it.

It's not just financial issues involving UC that will be recused. He seems to be saying he'll have nothing to do with any operational and other managerial issues involving LBL, LLNL and LANL. He'll leave most of the managerial decisions for these labs to his underlings in DOE. Thus, the UC related labs may see little of the benefit of having a scientist lead DOE.

Anonymous said...

Is moving the national laboratories to DOD the right decision? It's worth looking at who is opposed to the move and why. That alone isn't enough information on which to base such an important decision, but it will highlight what is wrong with the status quo.

Anonymous said...

LLNL also does a sizable amount of direct work for the Dept of Homeland Security. So I would keep it in DOE under the Office of Science, and allow it to support an NNSA in DOD as WFO.

LLNL should go from NNSA DOE to DOD and the current contract go with it placing all new employees on the GS and WG pay scale unless some LLNL / LLNS have service time that could be counted as Federal service time towards the 30 years needed to retire. It would be their option if they wanted to tranfer their TCP-1 or TCP-2 monies or freeze them where they are. The pay raises are definately better and more fare.

Anonymous said...

Whats taking them so long to get us under DOD. It should have been that way from the start.

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