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This week, New Mexico received news that, due to budget cuts, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is moving forward with a voluntary separation program that seeks to reduce the workforce of the lab by up to 800 employees.
For nearly 70 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has contributed to the safety and security of the United States. Its economic footprint in New Mexico has been significant, contributing in terms of dollars and jobs, both direct and indirect. LANL contributes more than $2 billion to New Mexico’s economy and its impact can be felt throughout the state and the many local businesses the lab works with. The vitality of the lab is critical to the economy of our region and news of job cuts at LANL is of great concern.
It is troubling to see unprecedented attacks on vital funding for the national labs. Last year, House Republicans offered a budget that would have reduced funding for LANL by 17 percent. And after Republicans played political games over the debt limit and brought our nation to the brink of default, Congress passed the Budget Control Act to make deep spending cuts – which I opposed. The legislation raised the debt ceiling, but required painful budget cuts across the board. I opposed this bill due to concerns regarding the impact it would have on New Mexico and our communities, such as Los Alamos, that rely on important federal funding that creates jobs and spurs economic growth.
With that being said, in the face of this budget tightening, it is critical that we put partisanship aside and remember the integral role that LANL plays not only in New Mexico, but our nation. The men and women at LANL provide a vital service to the security of our country.
The scientific and engineering vitality of the lab has always been and will continue to be an important asset. That is why I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the New Mexico delegation and in Congress to support LANL and the men and women who make it the tremendous national resource that it is.
In order to better insulate the lab from future cuts, it is critical that we focus our efforts on expanding LANL’s mission.
Having a larger number of core programs funded by a wider range of federal sponsors will help keep more jobs at Los Alamos, and the nation will benefit by taking advantage of the investments it has made into the lab’s infrastructure, workforce, and capabilities.
A recent report from the National Research Council underscores this point, finding that the diversification of the lab’s mission from nuclear security to national security will help to ensure the vitality of the science and engineering capability at the lab.
Moreover, the report stresses the need for an arrangement in which the expanded set of sponsors associated with an expanded mission can take more of an ownership stake in the lab. This is needed so that sponsors will contribute toward the long-term stewardship of the lab’s infrastructure and capabilities. A Stimson Center report from a few years ago made a very similar recommendation.
Broadening LANL’s mission has the potential to attract new opportunities at the lab as well as the surrounding communities. In addition, strengthening partnerships between the lab and local businesses can result in the development of new technologies and innovations across a broader spectrum that spur job creation and enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness.
The unique contributions of the lab have been a source of pride for the thousands of men and women who day in and day out focus on the security of our nation. It is vital that we continue to support their efforts while exploring new endeavors that protect jobs and expand opportunities for the communities around Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) represents New Mexico’s Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives