Anastasio: Budget request is “pretty good news”

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Obama administration request will carry Los Alamos National Laboratory for another year, while potentially restoring and raising funding levels for the nuclear non-proliferation mission.

Employment is expected to decline at no more than the normal rate of attrition, so no lay-offs are in the offing going into another year of a difficult economic situation.

But the budget plan, which will now begin its voyage through Congress, also included a few lower numbers. One of them was the total request, which fell about 7 percent from the current year’s $1.88 billion to next year’s $1.74.

At an all-hands meeting Thursday at LANL, Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio told employees that DOE’s budget request is “pretty good news” for Los Alamos, according to the online LANL News Bulletin.

Anastasio noted that the budget request included more than $100 million in reductions for LANL, but said the largest portion was related to construction projects. If the funding hadn’t been cut there, he said, earlier drafts had shown reductions in other areas, such as personnel, science and technology, the lab reported.

“It’s more important to preserve those capabilities,” Anastasio said, while continuing to “fight for” the construction projects.

Department of Energy spending plans for New Mexico in general dropped about 7 percent, although Sandia National Laboratories was up about $21 million according to a summary provided by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

But for LANL, the appropriation request doesn’t include $223 million in stimulus and competitive grant funds that have been assigned to LANL in the last several weeks.

In Washington, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced an overall request for the department of about $28.3 billion, an increase of nearly 8 percent.

The National Nuclear Security Administration submitted a plan for $9.9 billion, acknowledging some unresolved issues related to the transition.

“This budget is the first step in implementing President Obama’s historic commitment to nuclear security, which includes bold steps to put an end to Cold War thinking and lead a new international effort to enhance global security,” said NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino.

“Even as we look forward to meeting future needs once the Nuclear Posture Review is complete, this budget continues our commitment to the outstanding science, technology and engineering required to meet our current needs for nuclear security.”

The pause for results from the Nuclear Posture Review, due shortly before next year’s budget will be submitted, will have implications for LANL’s main construction project, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.

The Radiological Laboratory, the first stage of the CMRR will continue along with its furnishings and equipment, while previously scheduled final design work on the much larger Nuclear Facility would be on hold.

“A future decision to proceed with construction of the Nuclear Facility and associated equipment has been deferred pending the outcome of the current ongoing Nuclear Posture Review and other decision making,” according to a Project Data Sheet, notifying Congress of “significant changes.”

New Mexico’s senators both expressed concerns that the new budget lacked funding for upgrades of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, which is used in the stockpile stewardship program and also a major attraction for academic and industrial research around the country and the world.

“I believe LANSCE will play a major role in the diversification of Los Alamos into new science areas, which is why I will fight to reverse this wrong-headed decision,” Bingaman said.

In an announcement Sen. Tom Udall expressed satisfaction that the budget would support the core mission of stockpile stewardship while backing growth in new areas of national security.

"Although the budget provides immense new opportunities in these areas, however, I am disappointed it does not reflect the true value in upgrades to the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center,” he said.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján struck similar notes.

In an announcement this morning, he said that while he was concerned with the decision not to fund upgrades to Los Alamos Science Neutron Center, he was encouraged by funding boosts to nonproliferation programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory in President Obama’s budget.

Budget request correction

Close readers of the NNSA budget may notice a curious number on page 543 of Vol. 1 of the NNSA budget, having to do with contractor employment at LANL for 2008 through 2010. The item lists end-of-the-year 2008 employment at 8,139; 2009 at 7,940 and 2010 at 6,640.

This would suggest a steep drop of 1,300 jobs for the coming year. A check with NNSA this morning confirmed that the numbers were in error.

“Unfortunately, the projected jobs numbers included in the FY 2010 budget were the result of incorrect calculations,” said NNSA spokesperson Damien LaVera in an e-mail.

“We regret the error and are in the process of producing a correction that is a true representation of the budget. That projection will show a net projected loss of jobs of about 5 percent at both of New Mexico’s labs, which is consistent with typical annual rates of attrition. Our intention is to avoid any involuntary separations across the nuclear security enterprise, and this budget is consistent with that.”