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One standard evaluation appealed to by challengers in politics is to ask “Are you better off now than you were 2, 4, 8 years ago?” and insert the incumbent’s term. Since Los Alamos County’s health is so inextricably linked to Los Alamos National Laboratory I propose to switch the question to this: Is Los Alamos National Laboratory better off now than it was before George Bush took office? Will it be better off if his policies are continued by John McCain? Is there any evidence that they would not be continued by McCain?
Let’s look at history. In 2000 John Browne was Lab Director having taken over in 1997. The Laboratory was still managed by UC. The gross receipts tax was not assessed on its expenditures because it was a non profit organization.
The Bush administration took office with a goal of privatizing the management of the National Laboratories. To do this they had to end the historic relationship of the University of California with Los Alamos and Livermore. Unfortunately Los Alamos and UC made it easy to do this and make it look like a rational response to erratic management behavior.
Largely because of both real and mythical security violations, which received national press coverage, and because of an egregious financial scandal by subordinates John Browne was forced out in 2002 and replaced by Pete Nanos. Nanos’ subsequent mismanagement virtually guaranteed that the management contract with UC would not be renewed and that a new management contract would be opened to national bidding. Nanos had to be replaced in mid-May 2005 by Bob Kukuck who served until the new management contract had been bid and a winner had been selected.
The new and present director, Michael Anastazio, has the distinction of being the only person who has been Director of both Livermore and Los Alamos. The Deputy Director is Jan A. Van Prooyen, a Bechtel management employee. Bechtel is the 800 pound gorilla in the management team of LANS. Since LANS assumed management the research culture which existed at the laboratory is being replaced by a new one and the work force has decreased by about 2,500 jobs, largely to pay New Mexico’s gross receipts tax since the contract monies were not increased to reflect the change in management structure. A fundamental change in culture is that Bechtel personnel do not come to make a career at LANL but are here for 2-3 years then move on and thus have no permanent attachment to Los Alamos.
NNSA is proposing a major restructuring and reduction of the national nuclear complex in which Los Alamos’ core mission is re-defined. The new mission is estimated to require approximately 20 percent less effort than the old mission. There are some other work proposals mentioned but these are not part of the core program and it will be the Laboratory’s responsibility to procure funding for them. Reduced funds for the laboratory will translate directly into reduced staffing because this year’s effort to meet budget requirements has already removed the low hanging fruit in the budget process. This will have a direct effect on the County’s property tax and gross receipts tax income. The bullet has been so far dodged by funding DOE programs under a Continuing Resolution. A new FY2009 budget will be passed and the bullet will have to be bitten.
So I ask again the questions. Is Los Alamos National Laboratory better off than it was in 2000? Will it be better off next year if the Bush administration policies are continued by John McCain? Is there any evidence that they would not be continued by John McCain? McCain seems bent on continuing the Bush policies of unilateral adventuring in the Middle East and elsewhere which means that DOE programs will continue to be subordinated to DOD funding requirements. Not a good thought.
McCain’s campaign has proceeded from stunt to stunt to stunt. This would not be a good way to run the country. A Navy man should have been taught how to hold a course. But then, he’s a fighter pilot.