Friday, April 15, 2005

Over 20% of the weapons budget is being prepared for the chopping block

From Anonymous:

Get ready for the mother-of-all RIFs coming our way. You're right, the DOE really doesn't care about the weapon labs. They are planning massive cuts, beginning in FY 2006.

Over 20% of the weapons budget is being prepared for the chopping block.





Five-Year, $3 Billion Cut Will Undermine Labs' Defense Programs

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Pete Domenici today pressed a high-level Energy Department official to explain the rationale behind a proposed $3.0 billion cut over five years to the weapons programs at the national laboratories, and charged that the reductions could undermine the scientific capacity of the labs.

Domenici as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday challenged the proposed long-term budget outlook for the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Ambassador Linton Brooks, NNSA administrator was the primary witness at the hearing.

The DOE budget submission, while advocating significant increases for nonproliferation and other work next year, proposes a $3.0 billion cut in NNSA funding over the next five years. The budget also seeks a $750 million cut to the DOE recapitalization program that replaces decrepit laboratory facilities.

"A $3.0 billion reduction to the NNSA defense programs is unsustainable within the current NNSA complex. It amounts to a third of the annual defense programs budget. It is unclear to me where the cuts are to be applied, but I am deeply concerned that this budget undermines our scientific capability," Domenici said.

Domenici also pointed out that the budget outlook does not mesh with recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in which Brooks laid out a 15-year strategy to transform the NNSA weapons infrastructure.

"This vision of developing a new warhead will require a substantial investment in NNSA's scientific capability and infrastructure. Simply put, your vision for the future is not supported by future budgets," Domenici said. "The long-term impacts of the proposed budget will leave the NNSA complex with a shallow scientific capability, housed in ancient facilities and paying through the nose for unchecked growth in security costs."

Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, along with the Lawrence Livermore facility in California, carry out the NNSA weapons activities.

Domenici also took issue with the FY2006 budget request for $40 million, a $14.5 million cut, for the Z Machine at Sandia National Laboratories. In focusing on having the National Ignition Facility (NIF) reach ignition by 2010, NNSA also entirely eliminates funding, $33 million, for Intertial Fusion Technology that supports the development of laser and z-pinches that could be used in stockpile stewardship activities.

"I was shocked to learn that this budget doesn't even support a full, single shift at the Z machine at Sandia," Domenici said. "This budget basically slashes other relevant stewardship research, while NNSA wages what amounts to a crusade for NIF."

Domenici received assurance from Brooks that there is no official endorsement for a pending report on the future size and scope of the NNSA weapons complex. The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board has deployed a team to evaluate each NNSA facility before issuing its study results in May.

Domenici will begin developing the FY2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill later this spring and into the summer. The bill is likely to fit within the $9.4 billion requested for the NNSA (a 2.5 percent increase), with significant budget increases for nonproliferation activities.

Usual Domenici posturing.
The Senate is like a hundred Sumo wrestlers going at it. Never underestimate the value of posturing. Despite his faux pas in dealing with Nanos, Saint Pete usually delivers the bacon.
This leaves us to wonder if Saint Pete understands the separation of powers in our government. Last I checked the Executive Branch has the job of allocating resources for priorities they have identified. In this case the Bush administration has generated a very large budget problem, by cutting taxes for the rich. Saint Pete supported the tax cuts. Seems like "having his cake, and eating it too".
In fact the NIF program is a LLNL pork project which will NOT produce ignition. This is well understood. It is also being justifed as having a useful role in SSM, though this is unclear, and offset by many proliferation concerns. NIF, like most of Saint Pete's efforts is about PORK, not science. Pete wouldn't know science if it bit him; he's just a shill for LANL.
I suspect that Saint Pete will restore funding, and do the usual heaping of money on TA-55. He's a disgrace, doesn't know what the hell he is talking about, but then, he's in good company. Congress is about PORK, not reality.
LANL has made far too much use of Saint Pete to fund questionable projects; funding over and above the DOE requests, with TA-55 being a solid example of what happens when money is heaped on poorly managed programs.
It is important for management to "feed success and starve failure". LANL has a long history of throwing ever more money on faiures. This. of itself, is a good reason to get new management. It is also a reason to get a new Senator.

That's the Bush Administration's proposed FY2006 budget. See especially pages 3 and 54. I don't think they support the initial poster's assertion that "They are planning massive cuts, beginning in FY 2006."
to 4/15/2005 04:50:07 PM: Some of Saint Pete's "pork" has converted enough highly enrich uranium to build 17,000 bombs into low enriched nuclear fuel. Some of that material may be lighting your home. Friend, in terms of pure distructive power, the permanent decommissioning of 17,000 nuclear weapons is the largest arms reduction in the history of humankind. Do you support this activity?
To 4/15/2005 04:50:07 PM:
Possibly you need to check again. The responsibility for actually formulating the Federal budget is constitutionally vested solely in the House and Senate. The Executive Branch only provides a recommendation as to how much money it anticipates needing for the next year (actually the next two years.)
No, this is not posturing. The OMB is desperate for money. $80 billion supplemental for Iraq and all sorts of other non-nuclear defense activities. FY-06 will look like a good year in FY-08.
Consider all the waste, inefficiency, and out-of-control bureaucracy at LANL that is well documented in this blog. Seems to me that LANL should be able to absorb a 20% budget cut while simultaneously improving its productivity. What is required is to replace the current nano-management for whom 'operational efficiency' is an oxymoron.
If the weapons labs currently worked under DOD management, would there
be any talk of a 20% budget cut? I don't think so. Personally, I want
out from under DOE management. I'd rather be working under the DOD's
umbrella. And, like the recent poster from Sandia mentioned, that may
well be in our future. The sooner the better. Anyone know Rumsfeld's
telephone number?
The DOD has its problems, but the DOE is highly dysfunctional. The Rudman Report of a few years back clearly indicated this to be the case. It has only gotten worse in the last few years. Bring on the DOD. It couldn't be any worse than what we have right now. It might even be better.
Well I'm not very happy with Domenici right now, but the Lab has put him in an untenable position with its unrelenting abuse of the truth. This has been going on for some time. I remember arriving at the Lab in the late seventies and being astounded by the relics of the failed Antares project.

Any aggressive research effort will have its share of honest failures, but Los Alamos is just buried in them. Anyone can make a list so I won't here. The central feature here is that the Lab upper management over and over made up its own TRUTH regardless of staff opinon.

The Lab got to the point it would tell a lie when the truth would do. When a replacement/upgrade for the ancient PHERMEX was needed the Lab had to sell a pie in the sky system with a budget run wild. And I won't even go into crackpot ideas at Livermore that upper management insisted Los Alamos support so Livermore would support our pork.

How was Domenici to know what was what?

As to moving to DOD, if you have ever spent some time at a DOD run lab you would change your opinion. The NNSA was a good faith effort to wrench the Lab from DOE and to make a more supportive home. It seems to have just become another layer of mindless management.
Sadly, the layer of NNSA mindless management was well forecast by those who opposed the creation of the 'semi-independent' administration in the DOE.

But the politics of the Wen-Ho Lee affair required Washington to 'do something.' Never mind that his painstaking, serruptitious actions, over a long period of time, to remove classified information from secure containment was not a political problem.

Unfortuately, the 'something' politicians dole out to 'fix' problems seem to frequently end up being worse than the original problem.

The installation of a Navy-trained, inexperienced-in-R&D-management, outsider as LANL Director has been a disaster, and I'm just about convinced that it was engineered by politicians from the beginning. What we won't see, however, is any of these faceless meddlers taking responsibility for their actions. Great job. Thanks.

If we rely on politicians to fix our problems, we simply need to be ready fix more, worse problems when they're done.
Previous posted commented that Sen Dominici was a shill for LANL. Really? I see LANL as a shill for the Senator's personal use. Does he care about science? YGBSM. Does he care about Lab employees? Ditto. Does he care about maintaining power over Federal purse strings to pour our tax dollars into his state? You betcha. LANL has been his pet for decades doing science tricks just like a dog in obedience class. We are now an old dog and you all know what they say....
Responding to 12:19:42 AM and his/her faith in the Rudman report. NNSA was created to punish DOE under Clinton, not improve it. UC management was overjoyed when they dissolved the old DOE weapons complex and put in the new and improved NNSA to be managed out of Washington by politicians and non-technical "special assistants".

Look at one of the key authors of the report-- Sid Drell ring a bell? Rudman? Lucky if he can find his pants in the morning. No, NNSA was crafted by the JASON who thought they understood how to manage a beaurcracy. They were all too eager to remove DOE from bothering them with all those pesky safety and security issues and requirements and setting up their own lapdog beaurcracy. Problem is that all the DOE people who knew anything about the weapons complex retired or found other jobs. What is left is a bunch of political science majors in Washington running NNSA. Try talking to them about plutonium chemistry and the blank stares are smoother than a laser mirror.

You think DoD is better? Go ahead and check out them out and see if they pay anywhere close to what LANL's or SNL's salary structure is... not hardly.
That's part of the problem at LANL. The pay does not match almost anything out in the real world. At LANL, a Phd staff member (non-management) can make over $150 K if they stay around long enough. Salaries like that aren't matched anywhere else in government supported scientific work of which I'm aware. In some cases, both wife and husband are TSMs. Those families can bring in over a quarter of a million dollars each year! Even a metal lathe technician can make around $80K at LANL. I like the money I'm paid, but it doesn't jive with what I see happening in other places. Only private industry pays better, and the risks there are higher and the hours usually longer. Most of the LANL staff would never put up with a private industry job.

We are compensated extremely well for the work we do, and need to realize that to be the case. And, yeah, Los Alamos is an expensive place to live, but there are many other places in the US that make Los Alamos look like a bargain these days.
China Lake Naval Research Center pays a newly minted Phd a top salary of about $94 K. It's listed on the "" web site. China Lake was one of the first government sites to experiment with pay scales based on performance that were separate from the standard Federal "GS" pay scale. Of course, living expenses out at China Lake (CA) are much cheaper than at Los Alamos.
The Rudman comments are quite interesting as this report has been too much forgotten. The Drell input was a clever, and successful, UC result to pull the teeth of the report. The report, subtitled "Science at It's Best, Security at It's Worst" turned out be a science "puff piece" for UC/LANL. While the LANL security problems were, rightly, aired; LANL was also claimed to be a "Crown Jewel" which must be preserved. So, the focus came to be, not how to reform LANL, but how to prop it up. And, Domenici turned the focus to an attack on the DOE, which resulted in the creation of the NNSA. Under the new NNSA LANL was protected from a good deal of DOE oversight by "fire walls" between NNSA and the DOE. This led to the current oversight problems, and thwarted reforms.
What the report did not reveal is that Drell was not only a Stanford man, and a Jason, he was also the head of the UC President's Council on the National Labs, and had been since 1992. The Council, which was a prominent feature of UC's oversight scheme, had clearly failed in this task. Thus, Drell had every reason to limit the damage to LANL and pump up its science image. Drell was asked, by UC, to resign his Council position and work the Rudman report, to protect the UC interests. This profound bit of "spin control" was successful; as noted Drell's UC affiliation was hidden from view.
So, LANL was named a "Crown Jewel" and money was heaped on it to aid efforts to recruit Asian scientists. As so often at LANL, their failures were turned into money, and the security problems remained.
A bit of little known, and discouraging, history of a very successful UC public relations effort, which allowed LANL to skirt reforms and remain in denial about its problems. And, Domenici's very prominent, even dominant, role in creating the NNSA (in the face of Richardson's objections) stands revealed. So, when Pete attacks the NNSA these days, he's attacking his own creation. I think we would all agree that the NNSA was a bad idea; and now we know where the blame for it rests, with Saint Pete and his meddling.
I think we would all agree that the NNSA was a bad idea; and now we know where the blame for it rests, with Saint Pete and his meddling.

...or rather, St. Pete's immature and too ambitious staffer Alex Flint. Well, they got what they wanted, too bad they hate it now.

I think Doug should start a whole new thread-- Rudman Report Redux! This has been one of the more interesting insider discussions I have seen.
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