Manhattan Project Park in limbo

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By Arin McKenna

Legislation to create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is one of many bills languishing in the Senate as the debate over the continuing resolution to fund the government and legislation to raise the debt ceiling rages on.

On June 14, the House voted to include the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (H.R. 1208) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 1960. The companion bill in the Senate (S. 507) also passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 27.

Where the legislation goes from here is still up in the air.

The senate has not yet passed the Defense Authorization Act, which is considered “must pass” legislation. Once the Senate acts, a joint committee must reconcile differences in the bill. There is a good chance Doc Hastings, (R-Wash.), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and one of the proposed park’s strongest supporters, will sit on the joint committee.

If the amendment to include H.R. 1208 in the NDAA is not stripped out during that process, and the final version passes both House and Senate, the bill will become law.

The Senate has also implemented a strategy called “hotlining” to enact a collection of park bills that have cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Groups of parks bills are being submitted to all 100 senators to determine if they have any objections to them. A group of 15 was submitted first, and four were eliminated due to opposition. Another group of 20, which includes S. 507, has also been submitted, but the fate of that grouping is currently unknown.

All the bills surviving the hotlining process will pass by unanimous consent, without having to come to the Senate floor. A joint committee would then convene to resolve the differences between H.R. 1208 and S, 507, and the final bill would have to pass both houses of Congress.

The Act continues to have strong bipartisan support, but it is unclear how much legislation of any type will pass before the end of the year.

“Everything’s in a vortex such that no one can predict when anything is going to happen,” said Cynthia Kelly, founder and President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation. AHF is one of the strongest supporters of the legislation.

“Things could still play out very well, meaning we get legislation at the end of this Congress, or it could stall out along with everything else. We’ll just see how the immediate crises get handles. It’s very hard.”

“In conversations with your wonderful two senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, they’re determined, and they said it’s not a matter of if it will pass, but when. They’ve been very staunch supporters.
Udall issued the following statement to the Los Alamos Monitor.

“The Manhattan Project, with its roots in Los Alamos, changed the world. A national park would help future generations understand the powerful and complicated history of the beginning of the nuclear era, and I’m pushing for passage by the full Senate as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, AHF (atomicheritage.org) continues to sponsor several projects to keep the Manhattan Park history alive.

A summary of a February workshop called “Transforming the Relationship between Science and Society: Interpreting the Manhattan Projec” is now available on the AHF website, and highlights of the conference are available on YouTube (youtube.com/user/AtomicHeritage).

The two-day conference in Washington, D.C., brought together scholars, researchers, museum experts, and informal science education professionals. The main purpose was to determine how the issues of science and society raised by the development of the atomic bomb can inform and be integrated with contemporary issues.

The panel’s recommendations will be used to develop exhibits, programs and media about this topic, and will also become part of the dialogue for interpretive programs once the park legislation is passed.

Some of the topics discussed included Moral Responsibilities of Scientists, Decision to Drop the Bomb, Culture of Secrecy, National Security State, and Cold War: Avoiding Armageddon.

AHF has recently been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for “The Manhattan Project’s Legacy of Innovation.” The project will highlight some of the innovations of the Manhattan Project and trace them to innovations in science and engineering today, exploring how science, engineering and technology can change the world.

The AHF website continues to add oral histories from Manhattan Project participants to its website. A new website developed by the Carnegie Corporation based on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s “Guide to the Manhattan Project in Manhattan,” has also launched. Visit it at http://perspectives.carnegie.org/mp.