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McMillan: Budget problems impact lab's mission

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Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan was in Washington last week to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

McMillan provided an update on recent Los Alamos technical and scientific achievements; the proposed plutonium strategy under evaluation in numerous national security circles; and, Los Alamos budget realities that pose challenges to meeting the lab’s mission requirements.

The following came from the Senate website and this was McMillan’s written testimony to the subcommittee.

McMillan spent most of his testimony talking about plutonium.

But he eventually talked about the budget.

And he did not a paint a good scenario.

“I am particularly concerned about the latest budget guidance we have received from the Office of Infrastructure and Operations in NNSA,” McMillan said. “Their planning direction would significantly reduce our facility operations and maintenance budgets in FY15 by $56 million, an 18 percent cut compared to FY13, with additional reductions planned for FY16. It will be very difficult to deliver on mission requirements if our already‐aging infrastructure is further undermined, and there will undoubtedly be scope impacts to our mission deliverables.”

McMillan said in the past couple of years the lab has seen the deferral of the CMRR‐NF and reductions in the funding available to operate and maintain the aging buildings.

“Simply put, within the existing budget allocation, the plutonium sustainment, infrastructure and science, and engineering campaigns need attention and a significant increase in priority,” he said.

“We are living in a period in which we are underfunding our science, technology, and engineering base. As evidence, both physics laboratories are seeing flat or declining budgets at a time period in which the NNSA’s overall budget has increased by 26 percent (FY09 compared to FY15 Request). 

“This stagnation has removed all the flexibility we once had to manage our way through budget challenges. This gives me serious cause for concern as I contemplate the body of science needed to continue assessing the safety and reliability of the stockpile in the future.

Regarding mission funding, I am encouraged by the national consensus surrounding the B61 LEP effort, and believe that the nation needs to sustain the momentum associated with full funding, consistent with the nation’s treaty commitments to our allies.

However, it is increasingly clear to me that there is a growing divide between the annual funding allocations and the requirements placed on us by our partners. The B61 LEP is possible only because we invested many years into capability research and development. As we move forward, the funding needs for short‐term deliverables should not come at the expense of the underlying science and engineering base and at the expense of our infrastructure to serve tomorrow’s mission needs.”

McMillan then turned his attention to the number of oversight committees.

“Risk aversion among our partners is driving our safety mandates to the point where actually doing work is becoming increasingly difficult. More generally, simply trying to gain permission to build a facility or execute a work scope has become problematic because the many layers of permissions now routinely generate a “non‐concur” that stops the process,” he said.

Security requirements are another problem, McMillan said.

“I am worried about proposed funding reductions to our physical, cyber, and information security budgets as we update our assessment of threats to reflect current reality and try to operate within more stringent requirements. I have already asked NNSA for permission to reduce the size of my physical security staff to meet these reduction targets, but our risks will be increased as a result. In addition, our information and cyber security budgets are barely staying flat, yet cyber‐attacks on our computer systems continue to accelerate.

“This is one area that keeps me awake at night because as we have seen across this country, cyber intrusions are getting more complex and more damaging within both the commercial and government worlds. Again, I believe that we could better manage our security needs through realistic assessment of risk and make prudent management decisions to balance that risk and available funding.”

McMillan concluded his remarks to the committee by talking about his concerns about the health of the weapons program and the skills and capabilities of LANL.

“Without some coordination of our mission requirements to our funding allocations, and dexterity in management, we are going to see an accelerated loss of capabilities because my technical staff will continue to be pursued by those in private industries offering better opportunities to exercise their drive and innovation. It is only through the steadfast commitment, hard work, and utmost dedication of our people to serving the nation that we experience our successes and achievements, so retention of this talent is a priority.

“The Congress and the Administration need to develop an agreement on what our nuclear facilities strategy will be as we enter an uncertain future in a landscape we have not dealt with since the Cold War. 

“We need decisions on appropriate funding levels that can be sustained for the complex through the out years, and decision on what role a broader science and engineering base has at the NNSA laboratories.”