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The Federal Government's Shutdown and Its Impacts on our Department of Energy National Laboratories

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McNERNEY. I certainly want to thank my friend and colleague from Dublin, California, Eroc Swalwell, for bringing this topic up tonight. I want to thank my friend, Zoe Lofgren from San Jose, for being an advocate and a champion of the labs long before I got here and carrying on that great tradition.

What I would like to do tonight is talk about my experience at the lab.

When I first got my Ph.D.--and I won't tell you how long ago it was--I started working for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. I will tell you that there were a lot of great things about that experience. My colleagues were Bill Sullivan and Don Lobitz. There was Paul Veers. They were tireless; they were very well educated; they worked hard; and they were very inspirational to me as a young Ph.D. Our boss, whose name was Dick Braasch, went out there and delivered us the resources that we needed in order to carry out the research that was ahead of us.

In using that money and in using those tools and in using that resource, basically we developed wind energy technology from the very ground up. We were working on vertical access windmills, and we understood and worked very hard on the aerodynamics in order to understand exactly how to design blades to best maximize power and how to best maximize energy production from windmills so that wind turbines could be designed economically and make money. Now we see wind energy is a tremendous success. We see new windmills going up by the thousands--giant windmills that are 2,3, 4 megawatts. If you drive underneath them, they are just an incredible sight to see.

I just loved the experience, and I hope that we can continue to provide the resources for young scientists and young engineers who understand and who have the passion to go out there and make a difference and discover new technology and develop new energy sources and develop new health technology so that we can move forward.

The United States of America is truly the leader in this kind of technology. We lead in health care. We lead in health science. We lead in energy development. We lead in all kinds of sciences. Our universities are tremendous resources, but our laboratories are where the seasoned scientists go and produce real technology that can be transferred to the public sector.

Right now, if you look in Livermore, which is right outside of my district, there is a technology transfer operation. There is a cooperative organization between the laboratories--Sandia National Laboratories; the Livermore National Laboratory in the city of Livermore; in the city of Davis; Berkeley National Laboratory; Berkeley University; and so on. All of these institutions are working together with private companies to develop this technology and to transfer it into the private sector to give our businesses and our companies the edge they need to become successful and to create jobs and to lead our Nation.

One of the things they are doing in Livermore that is so exciting, which my colleague Zoe Lofgren talked about, was the National Ignition Facility, the fusion facility there in Livermore. If you don't know about fusion, I will back up a little bit. ``Fusion'' is when you break apart a uranium or a plutonium atom to create energy. It is a source of what you call the atomic bomb nuclear power, but fusion is the other side of the scale at which you actually fuse nuclei together to form bigger nuclei, and even more energy is released. The prototype is the hydrogen bomb. What they are doing in Livermore is actually trying to understand how to contain fusion energy. There is an unlimited amount of fusion fuel out there. The ocean. It's heavy water. The ocean contains heavy water. It contains tritium.

So it is a matter of understanding this basic force of nature and controlling this basic force of nature. As Zoe Lofgren mentioned a few minutes ago, what happened in Livermore just this last month was that they were successful in creating more energy in the fusion reaction than was put into the energy. It was put in the reaction.

So we see progress being made month by month, year by year. I've been out there to that facility. I've met with these scientists. I've met with the leaders. I can tell you that they have the same exact environment of just encouraging young scientists to do their best to make a difference, to understand science. It is very exciting for me to see that, and I would love to see that operation, that type of research continue at our national laboratories.

Los Alamos Laboratory, in Albuquerque, is also another fine institution like Sandia National Laboratories, like Livermore National Laboratory, and like Argonne Laboratory. There are several across the Nation. They do basic research, and they do basic development. My understanding is that the United States, with the NIP facility, have about a 5-year lead over other countries--over China--which are desperately trying to catch up with us.

When we furlough those scientists, when we stop that process, we set back our scientists for not just the amount of time they are laid off, but we stop the infrastructure. When you develop the technology that they have developed, this is several years of lead time to get the mirrors, to get the amplifiers that they use for this equipment. When you tell your suppliers, Well, we are not going to be using you for the next few months, those suppliers go away.

It takes years to develop the new technology, the new infrastructure, for these scientists to be able to purchase these items that are right now available. As we furlough these scientists and shut down that program, those people are going to go away. Maybe they will find customers in China. I hope not. So this is very, very critical for our national energy security and for our national security to keep on top of that and to not let that lapse.

The labs do other very useful things, like nuclear arms reduction. Some of the nuclear inspectors are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. We have chemical weapons inspectors. I would bet some of the inspectors who are getting ready to go to Syria right now are from these laboratories. I would bet a bottom dollar on that. If you are worried about cybersecurity, if you know the threats that we may face in our country with cybersecurity, then you are going to want to know what they do at the Livermore National Laboratory and at the Sandia National Laboratories. They have some of the top--I don't want to call them ``hackers''--they have some of the top folks who really understand how to get into computer systems and how to protect them and how to attack if they need to attack. We have some of the very best people in the world at these laboratories who are working on cybersecurity. We want to make sure that we continue to employ those folks and to get the best we can out of these folks who have so much passion on this subject.

Now, Zoe Lofgren also mentioned the Stanford Linear Accelerator, SLAC. They have an x-ray laser. X-rays are incredibly hard to control, and designing an x-ray laser which makes laser beams which are monochromatic and coherent is an unbelievable achievement. The things that they are going to be able to do with that are beyond what we can imagine today. So keeping those types of operations in progress are absolutely essential.

We don't want to be laying these people off. We don't want to be giving them the message that their work is not essential. We don't want to be giving them the idea that, Well, maybe I would be better off in the private sector; maybe I would be better off making big dollars instead of working on things that are so important to our national security.

If you have watched in the last few months, I have been doing 1-minute presentations on science achievements in this country, science achievements that are funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. We have seen things like the Boltzmann equation move forward, which explains how gases behave, how they expand and contract. We have seen how statistics are used in neuroscience, how differential equations are factored to get new insights into the behavior of nature. These are ideas that are funded through grants from the National Science Foundation and also from the National Institutes of Health. They fund things on cancer, on understanding epidemics in order to keep us safe. If you understand what is happening in the biological world, there is always a threat of a new virus.

These folks are understanding that. They are giving us the tools to protect ourselves, and I think it is absolutely essential that we restore funding to the pre-sequester levels for the National Science Foundation and for the National Institutes of Health.

We see our colleagues--well meaning, I know that--who want to reduce the size of government. They want to reduce funding for science for the National Science Foundation and for the National Institutes of Health, and they think there are no consequences. There are consequences. The consequences are going to be that we see less science in this country and that we see more science in other countries. So we need to work together to find a solution.

Yes, we are absolutely willing to negotiate. Just don't hold a gun to our heads. Don't hold us hostage. Don't make this extortion. Come to us with reasonable ideas. We will sit down with you at any time, at any place, and if you want to demand that we eliminate the medical device tax, we will even be willing to talk about that but after we get the government functioning, after we pay our obligations. Then we can talk about things that we want, like funding for the National Science Foundation, like funding for the National Institutes of Health. Those are the things that we want to see. There are so many other things that have been reduced, like food stamps and the WIC program.

We want to make sure that our voices are heard and that the extortion sort of tactics that we have seen from the leadership and from the far right wing do not hold sway so that we can negotiate fairly, so that we can use the rule of law, so that we can use the traditions of this tremendous body--the House of Representatives--and the United States Senate within the standard practices of bringing bills to the committee, of negotiating, of adding amendments, and then of voting on them, and moving those forward to the Senate to agree and then to the President. That is the regular order. That is the order we want to use. That is the order that has been used in this country. If you decide that that isn't the way to do it, then we are going to fight you tooth and nail.

I want to thank my colleague again, Eric Swalwell. I see another colleague who represents Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, which is where I used to work. I appreciate the true effort tonight.


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