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FYI Number 6: January 17, 2001

Senator Domenici Discusses Lab Morale

Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) spoke at a Sandia Laboratory colloquium earlier this week. Selections from his remarks dealing with lab employee morale follow:

"When I joined you almost exactly one year ago in this auditorium dedicated to the memory of Representative Steve Schiff, I began by reciting the list of studies and commissions that threatened to overwhelm the weapons laboratories. Many of those reports were related to security issues or to concerns about the status of stockpile stewardship. You were subjected to an unusually large number of such studies last year.

"There have been fewer commissions in the last year, which I hope has simplified your lives somewhat. That reflects to some extent the understanding that the labs most probably were not the source of suspected information leaks. The reduced number may also trace to the sense of optimism over the ability of General Gordon and his National Nuclear Security Administration to address stockpile concerns once he has the opportunity to evaluate and modify the current systems. In addition, some of this year's major reports are very supportive of the work of the labs."

"The legislation to create the National Nuclear Security Administration was completed in 1999, but for much of the last year, there was no progress to show for our efforts. As many of you are aware, the Department delayed implementation of the NNSA for months. As a result, the great opportunity afforded by the NNSA to finally align authorities and responsibilities within the national security programs languished for months. Finally, General John Gordon was named and confirmed to head the new Administration. General Gordon has a superb background for this job, including time spent as a researcher at Sandia.

"The extremely slow start for the NNSA has been a great frustration for me and probably for many of you, too. The NNSA represents the best approach Congress and the Rudman panel could devise to address the many studies that have labeled the DOE as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. Only now, as the new Administration moves in, can we all expect General Gordon to have the full support he needs to start to implement operational improvements in our national security programs.

"A major concern in the last year involved the low morale across the weapons complex, driven in no small part by your concerns about reactions to the security issues. This was typical of problems at your sister laboratories too. The report issued in September by former Senator Baker and former Representative Hamilton expressed concern with the morale crisis at the national labs and called for an immediate review of DOE procedures impacting on security.

"Polygraphs were another major concern here and at the other labs, with many of you writing me to note the highly debatable accuracy of this testing method. I encouraged changes in the plans for polygraph testing, such that less than 1000 workers across the whole complex might be polygraphed. Unfortunately, late action last year within the Defense Authorization Committee added additional categories of workers to the ranks of those subject to polygraphs. I've spoken out against these additions and will seek legislation to roll back those new requirements."

"I'm pleased that there were many legislative initiatives in the 106th Congress that will have significant positive impacts on Sandia. Of greatest importance, funding for the stockpile stewardship program reached new levels, as more legislators are realizing the magnitude of the challenge that you are undertaking in maintaining the stockpile in the absence of testing. The stewardship program is funded at $5.02 billion this year, up almost $400 million from the Administration's proposal and $600 million from the previous year.

"I've already noted the growing concerns over morale issues within the weapons complex. To address these issues, I emphasized several legislative approaches that, I hope, will help all of you.

"I heard from many of you that cuts in the Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding to 4 percent in the 2000 fiscal year were seriously impacting your ability for cutting edge research the work that strongly impacts your ability to craft new programs addressing emerging national security or science issues. Based on your concerns, we were successful in raising the cap on LDRD back to 6 percent.

"Many of you also expressed great concerns about limitations on travel that were placed by the House in the final Conference bill for funding in fiscal year 2000. You felt that your ability to carry out programs was being severely undermined. I pushed very hard, and successfully, to relax those travel restrictions. We were able to substantially increase the travel fund ceiling, as well as exempt any travel conducted under the LDRD program from those ceilings. This should ensure that your leading edge science, much of which is done in the LDRD program, is not restrained by travel guidelines."

"...I mentioned earlier that the physical infrastructure of the weapons complex is a growing concern and I noted the recent GAO report highlighting this issue. Long before this report, I'd been seeing these problems and hearing about them from your staff. General Gordon and I have discussed this issue, and we've agreed to kick-off a major initiative focused on infrastructure renewal in the weapons complex. We were even able to start some of that funding to impact this fiscal year, but far larger funding, perhaps $500 million or more a year, sustained for several years is required to address these issues."

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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