House Defeats Plans to Cut National Laboratories

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Publication date: 
27 October 1995
Number: 
152

During House floor debate on H.R. 2405, the Omnibus Civilian
Science Authorization Act of 1995, three amendments were offered to
reduce the national laboratories.  As explained in FYI #150, none
of these amendments were adopted.  The debate and roll call votes
do, however, provide insight into current congressional thinking
about the labs, as well as what direction Congress may take in the
future.

The first amendment offered by Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) would have
required "the aggregate number of individuals employed by all
government-owned, contractor-operated departmental laboratories,
other than departmental defense laboratories" to be reduced by "at
least one-third" within five years of the enactment of the bill.

In explaining his amendment, Roemer said it "will help balance the
budget by requiring that the national laboratories participate in
fair, even cuts, as many of the other items in this bill are
experiencing....  This bill is about eliminating real corporate
welfare."  Citing the Galvin Report, Roemer added that his
amendment "eliminates self-regulation by the DOE labs in meeting
Federal, State and local environmental health and safety
regulations."

Speaking in support of the Roemer amendment was Rep. Dana
Rohrabacher (R-CA), who is chairman of the House Energy and
Environment Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the Department
of Energy. 

Rising in opposition to the Roemer amendment was Rep. Bill
Richardson (D-NM), who criticized the 33% cut as extreme.   His
amendment, offered as a substitute for Roemer's, would establish a
DOE Laboratory Operations Board "to provide advice regarding the
strategic direction for Department laboratories."  The Richardson
amendment would require a 15% cut over five years, which he said
"is something  that the scientific community and the Department of
Energy can live with."  Roemer's amendment, Richardson claimed,
would result in between 14,000 and 20,000 people being cut from the
labs, adding "you are literally going to be closing down some
laboratories."

House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) criticized
the two amendments on a number of grounds, noting "we are cutting
money out of programs that most people regard as a national asset
for this country.  We have had very little testimony to indicate
that we do not have in the national laboratories assets of great
importance to our future." 

The House then voted.  It rejected Richardson's 15% reduction
amendment by a vote of 147-yes to 247-no.  It then turned to the
Roemer amendment, requiring a 33% cut, and rejected it by a vote of
135-yes to 286-no.  See FYI #153 for a list of those
representatives favoring the 33% reduction.  (Over)

The last amendment was offered by Rep. Scott Klug (R-WI).  It
sought the privatization of DOE laboratories, calling for the sale
of "all Department of Energy laboratories other than Los Alamos
National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory."  Lawrence Livermore would be
offered for sale at a later date.  In describing the rationale for
his amendment, Klug said, "many of these labs no longer have a
mission."  He went on to describe how Britain has privatized some
of its laboratories.

After some debate, the House rejected by a voice vote the Klug
amendment.  This is not the end of the road for those seeking to
privatize the laboratories.  During debate on the Klug amendment,
subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher rose in "reluctant
opposition" to the amendment because his subcommittee did not have
a chance to hold hearings on it.  Turning to Klug, Rohrabacher
said, "I would hope that the gentlemen from Wisconsin, if this
loses in a vote on the floor, would not give up but instead
resubmit this and submit it to the committee and I would be very
happy to bring this up at the earliest possible time."

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