Nuclear Laboratory Capabilities for 21st Century National Security

The Security for a New Century Study Group was honored to host Elizabeth “Libby” Turpen, co-director of the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program at The Henry L. Stimson Center, and David O. Overskei,
president of Decision Factors Inc., for a discussion of their task
force’s recent report, “Leveraging the S&T Capabilities of the NNSA
National Laboratories for 21st Century National Security.” Their presentation focused on the report’s key findings and recommendations.

The task force set out to assess the status of the national
nuclear labs because it sensed a “gathering storm” in the steady
erosion of US S&T dominance. A decline in federal funding for basic
research has been matched by an increase in investment from the private
sector, but the latter is generally less interested in backing
long-term, high risk research. During the Cold War, scientists and
engineers were given a lot of resources and latitude to fulfill arms
race requirements, but without such an overarching goal, the weapons
budget will decrease. Within the Department of Energy, there will be a
collision of increased attention to energy security and decreased
weapons funding that will leave certain important research unaccounted

What can be done to reverse this gathering storm? The task
force suggests an integrated S&T national security strategy where
the labs, industry and academia work together to halt the decline and
establish a responsive and agile S&T base. Current tools available
for cooperation include memorandums of understanding, work-for-others
agreements, and industry partnerships. A higher-order consideration is
the troubled relationship between the DoE/NNSA and the labs themselves.

The task force’s proposed Agency for National Security
Applications would help incorporate the interests and needs of the
various actors from both a strategic and tactical point of view. The
Agency, led by a board of directors from relevant departments and
agencies, would be advised by industry and academic experts; they would
ensure that the labs and other federally funded research and
development centers work together effectively to advance S&T
progress without compromising national security capabilities.

“Security for a New Century” is a bipartisan study group for
Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy
professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security
environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy
venue. Please call (202) 223-5956 for more information.

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