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Senators call for NNSA reforms

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Defense bill: Lawmakers look to overhaul troubled agency

By The Staff

At least, two U.S. Senators including one from New Mexico want to see some reform in the National Nuclear Security Administration.

It makes for an interesting pair.

One sponsor was Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and the other was Jon Kyl, a lame duck Republican from Arizona.

The two senators announced the adoption of their amendment to the Senate-passed 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, to evaluate the National Nuclear Security Administration in light of major management issues, cost overruns and security breaches in recent years.

“The NNSA has been plagued with problems that have impacted the scientific and stockpile stewardship work being done at Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, as well as the security and safety of the workers there,” Udall and Kyl said. “The ineffectiveness of the NNSA is a serious national security issue and our amendment will take a good look at what is needed to reform it. Moreover, this short, 120 day effort is meant to ensure Congress has the information necessary to implement needed reforms in the coming congress to improve our nuclear enterprise.”

According to a release from Udall’s office, this amendment will establish an advisory panel to recommend potential reforms to the NNSA’s organization and structure and its relationship to the DOE and other federal agencies.

Nuclear watchdogs, however, criticized it as an attempt to give for members of Congress the power to seat a panel that will make recommendations to protect the private contractors that run the nation’s nuclear facilities.

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, said the proposal ignores advice from government auditors to absorb NNSA back into the Department of Energy, aiming instead “toward freeing the powerful nuclear contractors, whose management has recently produced a string of multi-billion-dollar cost overruns and failures, from the limited accountability they now have.”

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the 2013 NDAA to authorize appropriations to fund the Department of Defense. The legislation passed by a vote of 98-0.

One of the caveats of the bill was that $150 million was put in to fund the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.

The Senate version of the bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, made 18 objections to the defense bill proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week and the refunding of the CMRR project was seventh on the list.

The administration said it agrees with numerous provisions of the act, but if it made its way to the President in its present form, the bill would get vetoed.

The statement from the White House read: “the Administration strongly objects to section 3111, which would require construction of the CMRR facility to begin in 2013. The Departments of Defense and Energy agree that, in light of today’s fiscal environment, CMRR can be deferred for at least five years, and funds reallocated to support higher priority nuclear weapons goals.

“An interim strategy will be implemented to provide adequate support to plutonium pit manufacturing and storage needs until a long-term solution can be implemented. Further, Senate bill 3254 would require funding for the CMRR in FY 2013 to be taken from other National Nuclear Security Administration priorities, creating undue risks for other parts of the program, including delays to critical infrastructure modernization, underfunding operations of the nuclear complex, and curtailing science, engineering and key nonproliferation initiatives.”

Lab officials certainly are not expecting the CMRR project to be revived anytime soon.

At a meeting two months ago, Steve Fong of the Los Alamos Site Office who helped run the project said $120 million of the $200 million in funding earmarked for the project has been returned to Washington.

Fong made the statement at a semi-annual public meeting that was required by a settlement agreement brokered by the New Mexico Environment Department between a coalition of six activist groups and the NNSA and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Fong also announced it would be the final meeting for the group as he detailed how the CMRR project was being dialed down.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.