Obama eyes Pentagon control of federal labs

(MILITARY TIMES)   ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Obama administration is considering moving the nation’s federal weapons complex, including New Mexico’s Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, under military control, ending decades of civilian oversight.

The Albuquerque Journal, in a copyright story Wednesday, said an internal memo it obtained shows the administration is looking into turning over control of the labs to the Department of Defense. They currently are controlled by the Department of Energy.

The Office of Management and Budget memo, which carried no date, said such a change would not occur until at least 2011.

The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Tuesday he told OMB chief Peter Orszag he had concerns about such a plan, which he called shortsighted.

“I will fight it tooth and nail if they intend to proceed with it,” he said he told Orszag.

More than 20,000 New Mexicans work for Sandia and Los Alamos labs.

Civilian management stems from a World War II decision by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the top scientist on the secret Manhattan Project that built the world’s first atomic bomb and led to the founding of Los Alamos lab. Oppenheimer had the weapons designed by civilian scientists rather than military officers.

After the war, government officials concluded the “ultimate weapon” should be left in civilian control.

A shift to military oversight “would be very dramatic,” said nuclear weapons historian Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Norris said the Reagan administration tried unsuccessfully to move the weapons program to Pentagon control in the 1980s.

The OMB memo outlines plans for a study to be done by the end of September on costs and benefits of the proposal. The plan would move the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the DOE that oversees the labs, to the defense agency. Congress created the NNSA in 2000 as a quasi-independent body but under DOE jurisdiction.

Former Sandia lab president C. Paul Robinson, in written responses last year to questions from members of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces subcommittee, said he thought Pentagon management should be considered.

Robinson, a senior government adviser on nuclear weapons issues, said he’s long supported civilian control. But in recent years, long-term management has become a problem because of “short-term upheavals” as different administrations come and go, repeatedly changing the direction of the nation’s weapons program.

“The presence of a uniformed military could provide a continuity that has been lacking,” he told the subcommittee.

He said Tuesday the NNSA hasn’t worked.

The team that will study the possibility of a shift will include members from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and “other major NNSA stakeholders,” the memo said.




Pictured is Los Alamos.  For more info on Los Alamos go to: www.lanl.gov/ los alamos


Pictured is Sandia. For more info on Sandia go to:  www.sandia.gov/ sandia

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