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Change in the wind

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By Roger Snodgrass

Rep. Tom Udall resumed his theme of diversifying Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission Thursday.The Democratic Congressman, who represents Los Alamos in New Mexico’s Third District, spoke to employees at the lab about external pressures – “from the White House, from NNSA, from Congress and from those outside the lab” – to shrink the lab’s core stockpile stewardship mission and reduce the footprint of nuclear weapons.In a talk to employees, from which LANL management excluded the press, Udall replayed his votes during the appropriation process last summer and explained the reasons for them.In a final transcript provided by his office after the talk, Udall recalled the significant reductions that were imposed on the laboratory by an appropriations subcommittee in the House, followed by his attempt to restore $192 million of that cut.That amendment was in turn rejected by what he termed “a huge bipartisan defeat” after debate in the full House.“My subsequent vote in support of the Energy and Water appropriation bill, which received more attention than my amendment, was a vote to support and encourage future sustainability of the lab,” he said.“It was cast with the knowledge that LANL could compete for all the funding increases in the bill, including vital, new areas of research.”He added that he had received assurances from appropriation leadership in both the House and the Senate that core funding for the laboratory would be protected – “which is exactly what happened,” he said.The final consolidated appropriations bill returned the lab’s budget to something close to last year’s totals.“I said at the time the money would be restored,” he said in a visit to the Monitor office afterward.He emphasized that the layoffs that had just occurred, which were mostly voluntary, were not caused by budget cuts, but rather because the laboratory thought more people were going to retire during the year.To those who have doubts about how the laboratory can change its mission, when the mission is fixed by Congress, Udall described the give and take process that is about to begin again later this month when the president presents his budget plan for next year.“It’s a shared situation,” he said. “Congress pushes back. What comes out is a mixture.”In the process, it is important for the laboratory itself to be shopping its own ideas, he said.Without the lab managers pushing and competing for new money available for science, it would be harder to move forward.During the talk at the laboratory, Udall reinforced some of the points LANL Director Michael Anastasio made during a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.Anastasio called national laboratories “the stewards that keep the basic science and technology vital and keep it available for times of national need trying to anticipate the future and all the opportunities and challenges it holds.”Udall promised to do “all I can in the coming years to protect the core mission of the lab while also strongly pushing for funding in new areas of growth and research.”He said he had written letters to both the Office of Management and Budget and the National Nuclear Security Administration in November calling for mission support and diversity, and looked forward to seeing some of those suggestions to be reflected in the new budget proposal.“I’m impressed by the people up here,” he said during his visit to the Monitor. “They can do it.”