California Committee on Oversight of DOE Labs Meets in New Mexico

* State legislators from California and New Mexico, as well as representatives from Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (or LLNL) and members of the public, gathered this week at a hearing regarding oversight of the Department of Energy (or DOE) labs operated by the University of California (or UC).

During the last legislative session, the New Mexico legislature passed Senate Joint Memorial 84 (or SJM 84), which requests that the legislative council appoint a joint committee similar to the California Senate Select committee. The California Senate Select Committee was established in 1997 to address worker issues, specifically those related to the reduction in force instituted by LANL in 1995.

The joint legislative committee would be charged with the duty of appointing a Citizens Advisory Committee to oversee the DOE laboratories operated by UC and identify LANL issues that must be more fully addressed by the New Mexico legislature.

SJM 84 recommends a Citizens Advisory Committee because, "[LANL] has an impact on the ground water and air quality, employment and communities surrounding it, and ... legislators and citizens of New Mexico and California have had concerns about the activities, operation and management of LANL."

Joni Arends, of CCNS, submitted testimony in support of SJM 84, saying that a Citizens Advisory Committee is necessary to monitor emissions from LANL and technologies produced there, as well as cleanup of areas contaminated by LANL.

This oversight is particularly crucial considering that LANL is currently being scouted by DOE as the future home of a factory to produce plutonium triggers for U.S. nuclear weapons. Also, LANL is competing with LLNL for the opportunity to design hydrogen bombs that could destroy underground targets. Senator Manny Aragon said that SJM 84 would likely take effect this year.

The hearing also addressed employee policy at LANL, including hiring and treatment of minorities and employee freedom of speech. John Browne, LANL's director, claimed that LANL is "headed in the right direction" of fairness towards minorities, since the number of Hispanics hired at LANL recently is higher than LANL's overall rate of growth.

However, Browne left shortly after his presentation and did not witness the three hours of testimony by current and former employees claiming that minority representation at LANL has not improved. Chief among their concerns is the possibility that minorities were being treated unfairly as reduction in force in 1995. Susan Seligman, of the Anti-Defamation League, testified that the majority of employees who were not rehired following layoffs were Jewish, and cited other instances of religious insensitivity allegedly committed at LANL.

Fair wages for minority employees were also discussed after Ralph Arellanes, former chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable, pointed out that Hispanics make up less than 3 percent of employees that earn six-figures or more at LANL, a wage earned by one-third of LANL employees.

Despite testimony that Browne is trying to steer LANL in the right direction, Arellanes pointed out that Browne was unwilling to provide access to the raw data he used to support his claims of increasing fairness in the workforce.

Back to News Index