Lawmakers Blast Study of Moving Nuclear-Weapon Research Management to Pentagon

New Mexico lawmakers have rallied to oppose the Obama administration's consideration of placing U.S. nuclear-weapon research under the control of the Defense Department, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 5).

Both of the state's senators and two of its three congressmen have issued statements criticizing the study, saying that the transfer could jeopardize efforts by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories to conduct much-needed civilian research (John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 5).

The switch "would change the fundamental mission and purpose of the labs, and would discourage exactly the kind of science that is now most needed," Senator Tom Udall (D) said (Associated Press, Feb. 5).

"It's a bad suggestion and one I strongly oppose," said Senator Jeff Bingaman (D). "The initial concern is that we should have a separate system for nuclear weapons than we do for conventional weapons, because nuclear weapons are different and much more deadly."

The outcry was triggered by an Management and Budget Office memo instructing the Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration "to assess the costs and benefits of transferring budget and management of NNSA or its components to DOD and elsewhere, as appropriate, beginning in [fiscal] 2011." The memo asks for the study to be completed by the end of September.

While the lawmakers opposed the idea, some in the laboratory community have been more welcoming.

"After years of resisting any suggestion to put the weapons program under Pentagon control, I now think the Department of Defense should take the whole nuclear weapons program," said former Sandia chief C. Paul Robinson (Sue Vorenberg, Santa Fe New Mexican, Feb. 4).

Robinson advised a Defense Science Board panel that in 2006 recommended moving the program to the Pentagon.

"Given the culture of excessive oversight, micromanagement, and risk aversion without regard to productivity that has developed since the end of the Cold War, this task force has low confidence in the prospect for an effective and lasting change in management of the nuclear weapons enterprise with DOE," the board reported (Fleck, Albuquerque Journal).

The producer of a blog on Los Alamos also expressed support.

"It's a great idea," said Frank Young, a former Los Alamos contract worker who runs the blog LANL: The Rest of the Story and has also served in the military.

"Compared to the way I was treated in DOD, DOE was just horrible," he told the New-Mexican. "There's a culture in the military -- you take care of your people, or your career is over" (Vorenberg, Santa Fe New-Mexican).

February 6, 2009
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New Mexico lawmakers have rallied to oppose the Obama administration's consideration of placing U.S. nuclear-weapon research under the control of the Defense Department, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 5).