Gov weighs in on shutdown

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Martinez >Says it’s another case of dysfunction in D.C.

By John Severance

Governor Susana Martinez took an opportunity to weigh in on the government shutdown and its effect on national lab employees, contractors and subcontractors.

Not surprisingly, Martinez criticized the politicians in Washington.

“This is yet another unfortunate, disappointing result of the partisanship and dysfunction in Washington D.C.,” she said. “At the state level, we work year in and year out to balance our budget, confront the problems we face in a collaborative manner, and provide basic government services efficiently and effectively.”

Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories are preparing to shut down by Oct. 21 and furlough of most of their 18,000 workers if Congress does not reach a deal to end the federal government’s partial shutdown. LANL announced it would shutdown by the end of the day Oct. 18.

The preparations are part of a directive from the National Nuclear Security Administration. The administration is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and it oversees work at both national labs in New Mexico.

LANL Director Charles McMillan sent lab employees a memo Wednesday saying that without a resolution to the budget impasse, Los Alamos will complete “the transition to closure” as of the end of business Oct. 18.

“We are currently preparing a list of the safety and security operations that will continue and personnel who would work through the closure to staff them,” the memo said. “All other employees will be placed on unpaid furlough starting Monday, Oct. 21, until the Laboratory can safely restart.”

McMillan held an all-hands meeting Thursday.

According to a person who attended, “The meeting was just what you would expect given the topic. We had some detailed information and received a number of excellent questions. Some we had answers for, and others we’ll have to go back and verify.”

The meeting lasted about an hour and 10 minutes and the main auditorium was full to capacity. There also was video streaming to more than 60 conference rooms across the lab.

McMillan told employees if the closure happens, for legal reasons the lab is not allowing employees to “volunteer” to work, which includes working from home or off-site, or attend conferences to present lab work.

Martinez, meanwhile, talked about the possible closure of the federal labs in New Mexico.

“A closing of Sandia and Los Alamos would hurt critical sectors of our economy, and unfortunately, this provides yet another example of how Washington is making it difficult for states to fully recover from the recession. We’ve made so much headway with cleaning up Tru-Waste at LANL, and it’s unfortunate that WIPP shipments are on pause right now, which could slow down our progress. “

LANL halted shipments to the Waste Isolation Plant on Monday. The lab was in the midst of a campaign, which would ship 3,706 cubic meters of waste to WIPP by June 2014.

The NNSA said last year it was not going to be able to fulfill the requirements of the Consent Order on time. And the state and the New Mexico Environment Department have refused to negotiate any aspect of the Consent Order.

2,745 cubic meters of waste have been moved since the start of the campaign two years ago vs. the goal of 2,600 for this point in time; with most but not all of that material heading to WIPP.

A lab official said some of the waste was reclassified and sent to appropriate low-level waste sites.

The lab official said, “We’ve been in regular communication with NMED.”

Meanwhile in Washington, the Global Security Newswire is reporting the House of Representatives could debate legislation to temporarily restore funding for the NNSA. House Republicans have prepared multiple bills including NNSA, intelligence, border security and national parks but the Senate also has indicated it would not pass bills on a piece-meal approach.

According to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are exploring whether they can end a budget standoff that has triggered a partial government shutdown and edged Washington to the verge of a historic, economy-jarring federal default.

The two sides planned to continue discussions Friday, a day after Obama and top administration officials met for 90 minutes with House Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders at the White House. No agreement was reported and plenty of hurdles remained, but both sides cast their meeting positively as, for the first time, hopes emerged that a resolution might be attainable, even if only a temporary one.

Obama planned a late-morning White House meeting with GOP senators, who said they would present options of their own for ending the shutdown and debt limit standoff. Determined to resolve the twin crises, the Republicans have reached out to senior Democrats, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.