WASHINGTON – At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall pressed top Obama Administration officials about the potentially dangerous impacts of federal budget cuts on the national laboratories and military bases in his state.
The rare full committee hearing, Udall’s first since being appointed to the panel, examined “The Impacts of Sequestration” and outlined the negative impacts of scheduled across-the-board federal budget cuts in detail.
“Sequestration threatens damaging cuts for New Mexico's national labs, military facilities and border security,” Udall said. “If implemented, those cuts will be very damaging, I believe, to our national security.”
He continued, “Sequestration will also be very damaging to some of New Mexico's most vulnerable: Children in need of a quality education, rural communities struggling with housing, and homeless veterans seeking emergency shelter.”
The hearing included testimony from the Controller of the White House Office of Management and Budget Danny Werfel, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.
Below is a transcript of Udall’s line of questioning on New Mexico’s labs and military facilities:
Mr. Werfer and Mr. Carter, my -- my first question goes to you. New Mexico's national security laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia work to support our stock pile stewardship mission. I believe the sequester's across the board cuts, including 9.4 percent cut facing the national [nuclear] security administration weapons account, will hamper the important stock pile stewardship work across the country.
Needless to say, there is absolutely zero tolerance for mistakes when dealing with nuclear weapons. Are you concerned that sequestration cuts pose unacceptable risks to the NNSA? And is DOD concerned about the impacts on its strategic missions as a result?
Mr. Werfel, why don't you go first on that and...
I -- I will start.
Yeah, because as you mentioned, I think NNSA does fall within the defense category in the sequester, therefore, it faces roughly an 8 percent cut which will be applied, as I understand it, evenly across all NNSA labs and plants.
You mentioned Sandia. It's my understanding that critical milestones will be delayed for that lab as a result of the sequester. For Los Alamos, we are looking at $46 million cut to procurement, hiring freezes, and furlough days for certain employees. So absolutely, there is -- there is significant concern -- there's concern across government. Your question about NNSA, I think is -- it's not safe from -- from the impacts of sequester.
We're the customer for NNSA. We're the ones who depend upon them making a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear arsenal that we can put aboard our delivery system. So I am concerned about it. Mr. Werfel says at a minimum stretches out all the stock pile life extension programs, which is not good, because makes them, first of all, more expensive, and second of all, we don't have time in many of those cases. So I am -- I am concerned about it. Very much concerned about it.
Thank you for those answers.
I'm going to do everything I can if we go into this sequester to make sure that we protect these national laboratories that are real jewels.
Mr. Carter, New Mexico's military's installations, Cannon Air Force Base, Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, and part of Fort Bliss are -- are unique to our nation's national security objectives due to New Mexico's large unencumbered air space, unique geography, and intellectual capital.
The sequester will impact long-term readiness, as well as future defense research, in favor of a reckless plan to reduce the budget. And I think you've talked a little bit about that. Are you concerned with the impacts of sequester on these installations? What are the near and short-term consequences of reduced training at Air Force bases, and the reduction of research and development at White Sands, and the Air Force research lab and similar test ranges?
In the near term you will see, in the final months of this year, a sharp curtailment of range activity and other training activities. We don't have any choice about that. We're simply going to run out of money in those operations and maintenance accounts.
In the long run, if the reductions in budgetary authority forecast, which in our case is around $500 billion over 10 years, not all of these facilities can survive. We asked last year for BRAC authority even to make the adjustments -- the huge adjustment we are already making. The $478 billion that we absorbed last year, that $487 billion, those cuts extend over 10 years.
And you can't -- you can't keep the tooth if you're not able to cut the tail. Some inevitably, these -- at some of these installations are going to have to be reduced. Both in the near term and far term it will have an effect on those installations. We just don't have any choice.
Mr. Carter, you -- you mentioned in your testimony -- I'm wrapping up, Madam Chair -- you mentioned in your testimony about small business being hurt by this. I think that could be a real impact in New Mexico and across the country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Witness testimony and other supporting material from the hearing are available here.