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Spencer: Is ‘Bombs For Profits’ A Good Model For A Nuclear Weapons Lab?

on August 7, 2017 - 11:31am
Los Alamos

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” –Dwight Eisenhower

The County Manager and Council Chair have both submitted comments to NNSA regarding the draft solicitation for the LANL M&O Request for Proposals. The letters sent to NNSA can be found in this Daily Post article. There is a lot there, but the parts that I find objectionable are the statements “The Contractor should be a for-profit operator”. This statement puts the county’s demands for more amenities above the national good. This criticism is especially timely since there is talk that some on Council seem to want to move ahead, using funds in hand, with certain recreational projects that the public voted to not fund with a bond issue.

Is a “profit” model a good one for LANL? What, exactly, is the “competition” LANL faces when building “LANL Brand” nuclear weapons and defense “products” if we use a free-market model rather than one of a non-profit public institution? How does the American taxpayer play this “market” since the public is the ultimate source of investment capital? Should for-profit companies even be building nuclear weapons given the dire nature of these instruments of mass destruction? Do we need to “sell” nuclear weapons because they are necessary for the nation's defense or because we need to ensure a good rate of return for a private consortium of for-profit companies? Not to mention, to ensure a bigger GRT tax payout so Los Alamos can build whatever it pleases (year-round ice rinks, bigger and better golf courses, more overcapacity roads, splash pools, etc.)? Has Los Alamos County become irreversibly hooked on the for-profit GRT payouts and thus the military-industrial complex model?

Los Alamos, which would not exist as a small city if not for the laboratory, was not starving for goodness when I arrived here to work under the UC system. In fact, the combination of the county's innate attractiveness and the UC connection convinced me to leave a pretty good university job and sign on the dotted line. Plus, no matter how much money we spend on splash pools, we will always be, as someone else once said, a cul-de-sac rather than a Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Some of us like it that way. Or to paraphrase Richard Hannemann, when he had his blog, “Los Alamos really is a small town. Remove the (for-profit) GRT from the equation and you get a small town. Put the GRT back into the equation and you still have a small town -- with an Attitude problem. We really don’t absolutely have to have the GRT -- we just have to lose the Attitude.”

We don’t need to demand more of Joe Sixpack’s taxpayer’s dollars to prop up our public buildings, recreational resources, and AAA level of service arterials (e.g., Diamond Drive) in order to have a great community. The question of a for-profit or not-for, profit model for the national lab is subsidiary to a lot of other important issues, most of which revolve around sustaining an excellent national laboratory and second to none work force. With the high salaries here and excellent quality of life, we should cover the rest. Indeed, compared to most of New Mexico (or for that matter, most of the US), we have long been doing pretty darn well for ourselves. If we want more amenities, we should provide these ourselves rather than pick Uncle Sam’s pockets, which of course means picking the pockets of communities doing far worse than we are.