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Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., shared her views on Los Alamos National Laboratory, its current mission and future direction during a Chamber Roundtable discussion Monday morning.
There is clear concern among the group of business people gathered at Los Alamos National Bank about the laboratory’s future because of the retirement of its most powerful advocate, Sen. Pete Domenici, at year’s end.
Wilson told the group Congress must be made aware of where the real added value is that’s unique to Los Alamos.
“It’ll probably be on the extremely difficult problems that others can’t do,” she said.
“Do you think you’re powerful enough in Congress to make that point?” asked a businessman.
Wilson explained that she is respected in Congress and last week met with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, likely to be the next ranking member following Domenici’s retirement, she said.
“Pete brought him out here to Los Alamos,” she said.
Wilson told the business people that she is a strong advocate of LANL and described how she sees its future. LANL will become a center of excellence for the DOE Complex Transformation project, which is designed to create a smaller, safer, more secure and less expensive nuclear weapons complex, she said, adding that the lab will be the center of excellence for supercomputing, plutonium pit production research and development, nuclear design and engineering, and materials research.
In discussing last year’s budget hearings, Wilson said, “What most concerned me is in the debate of the budget last year, they didn’t even discuss nuclear issues ... like it didn’t matter ... Maintaining our nuclear stockpile has fallen so far off the radar screen for most members of Congress that it’s scary.”
Wilson sits on the committee responsible for one-half to two-thirds of the entire intelligence budget, she said.
“My biggest criticism of the intelligence community is the lack of direct access and involvement to technical expertise,” Wilson said. “One of the things I’m trying to do is make a closer connection between the intelligence community and our national laboratories.”
Wilson also told the group that aging buildings at LANL must be upgraded, such as the the old Chemical and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, currently under construction, in order to attract top talent.
While she wants to keep things up to date, Wilson said she also believes in cutting programs that aren’t performing on schedule and on cost.
“But you don’t do that with a hatchet across the board cutting both the muscle and the fat,” she said.
Safe and open access between the townsite and the Jemez Mountains is another topic that received attention during the Roundtable. Chamber Executive Director Kevin Holsapple and Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-LA discussed community concerns about the situation with Wilson who said she would do what she could to help resolve the issue.
The meeting wrapped up with praise from a businessman.
“Over the years, every time I hear the name Heather Wilson or Jeannette (Wallace), integrity comes to mind,” he said.
Wilson thanked the man and spoke of the positive influence she received attending the Air Force Academy.
“I try to be honest ... and do what is ethical,” she said.
She touched on corruption in Washington and behavior she does not condone such as some members of Congress taking $75,000 golf trips to Scotland.
“I don’t want to be judged by the company I keep some days,” Wilson said.
The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce hosts periodic Roundtable meetings to provide a platform for its members to share their views with various community, business and political leaders.