I have visited the INL facilities on occasions too numerous to count since the 1970s and have watched in awe as the work and mission of the lab have matured. My newest observation point is from my seat on the Senate Energy, Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. There seems to be no limit to the accomplishments the lab can perform be it in nuclear energy, homeland security or national defense. When called on by this country and sometimes the world, the lab rises to the occasion.
Then, why, you ask, is it so difficult to get badly needed higher funding for the INL? Let’s take a look at three of the problem factors.
Federal government bloat. Over the last six decades, the federal government and its involvement in the everyday lives of Americans has grown exponentially. Sixty years ago, important science and security spending was more than 70 percent of the federal budget. Today, it is less than 20 percent. Yet, the federal government spent more than $3.8 trillion last year, with rapidly growing deficits and a national debt that have gone from $10 trillion to $17 trillion in the time I have been in the Senate alone. This is irresponsible and an unsustainable path for America that will only put more downward pressure on INL’s budget.
Waste, fraud, and abuse. The federal government spends $10.4 billion per day. Common sense tells us there will be waste, fraud and abuse with that volume of cash. Duplicative programs are stunning – 82 teacher quality programs in 10 different agencies, 21 homelessness programs in 7 agencies, and the long list goes on.
Bad Management. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives creates a budget, holds hearings and appropriates money through a rule-driven budgetary and appropriation process. No such thing exists in the Democrat-controlled Senate. My predecessors had the opportunity to sit on the appropriations and budget committees to advocate for cuts and increases where appropriate and then debate and vote on those. I have no such opportunity. A seat on the budget or appropriations committees is of no use in a body that does neither. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, will not allow a budgeting or appropriations process. The result is the government is funded on a one-vote-per-year system which does not get vetted, debated or analyzed by the body. The bad and wasteful gets funded right along with the good.
Some have suggested that we should be satisfied, roll over and accept the inadequacies in funding at places like the INL and accept the waste, fraud and abuse in other places in the budget, and then just vote ‘yes.’ Some have even complained that a ‘no’ vote is a vote against the incredibly important work done at places like the INL. I have not, I cannot and will not accept the status quo and support a mammoth spending bill that shorts the INL and other important government agencies while perpetuating waste, fraud and abuse.
Indeed, with those protest ‘no’ votes, the continual preaching and pressure we are starting to make a difference. We should note that the most recent omnibus bill spent less on renewable energy than the president wanted and more on nuclear energy than Obama wanted, which I have been demanding on the Energy Committee since I joined the Senate. Finally! That is a start, but only a start and not nearly good enough. I won’t give up this battle. I believe in, and have great respect for the INL, its work and its irreplaceable niche in so many of America’s important endeavors. My Idaho colleagues and I fight for it in Washington, D.C., every day.
The future of the United States depends upon using creativity and innovation to tackle global problems and one of the biggest challenges is abundant and affordable energy for the world. The future demands nuclear energy and INL is at the forefront of innovation in this field. I have and will continue to advocate for INL’s rightful place as the Department of Energy’s lead nuclear lab and support programs like the NuScale Small Modular Reactor. The jobs provided by the lab have been and are important to the economic well-being of Idaho and the nation, and I am committed to building new opportunities at the lab.
America was destined from its inception to accomplish great and glorious things, and the hardworking and courageous people at places like the INL make it happen. I have great confidence in the American people. I believe the outrage against our broken government will rise up and Americans will, as they must, make great changes in their governance. These changes cannot come too soon.