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"Forget the Rest" blog

November 29, 2013

Senator Mike Lee
316 Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510


  • We urge you and your colleagues to continue to oppose the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, S. 507, now before the Senate in Senate Amendment 2492 to S. 1197, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014.
  • Today's AP story, here.
  • Further background available from us Tuesday.
  • My contact information, at bottom.

Dear Senator Lee,

The “Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act,” S. 507, has been placed on the Senate Calendar under General Orders after the May 16, 2013 recommendation of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to pass the bill as amended.  You, along with Senators Barrasso, Heller, Flake, Scott, and Portman, requested to be recorded as saying “no” to this recommendation.  We agree with you.

On June 14, 2013, the House passed a similar measure in Section 3147 of H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014.

On November 21, 2013, senators Cantwell, Heinrich, Murray, and Udall (of NM) introduced Senate Amendment (SA) 2492 to include establishment of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park in the Senate version of the same Act, S. 1197, which has been placed on the Senate calendar on December 9, 2013.

Two of my colleagues and I were in Washington, D.C., during the week of July 22 and had the opportunity to briefly share some of our concerns regarding the proposed National Park with Michael Freeman of your office.

In brief, we do not support a Manhattan Project National Historical Park (“Park”) for these reasons:

1.  There are fundamental problems with the Park idea.

  1. The “significance” and continuing legacy of the Manhattan Project is politically contentious and disputed.  This significance is central to the Park idea.  The original bill (S. 507, at sec. 2(2)(A)) and SA 2492 at (a)(2)(A)) quotes a “panel of experts” who state that the “the development and use of the atomic bomb during World War II has been called ‘the single most significant event of the 20th century.’”  Creating such a Park inherently endorses the Manhattan Project and its modern-day successor activities as positive national achievements.  Indeed that is the purpose of the proposal.  Supposedly “objective” background materials supporting the Park proposal are already one-sided, significantly incomplete, and/or historically incorrect.

  2. Some of the proposed Park sites are near or within active nuclear weapons design, testing, and production sites, underscoring the impossibility of any objective interpretation at these locations.  The political pressure to adopt supportive narratives regarding past and current activities, which involve billions of dollars in appropriations, is already overwhelming.  There is no reason whatsoever to believe the National Park Service (NPS) can or will be an objective interpreter of current national security issues – which is part of what this Park would implicitly do.  Quite simply, this proposal aims to use the National Park Service for propaganda purposes.  This will be quite apparent (and quite jarring) to many domestic and international visitors.  The propaganda aspect of the proposed Park is oddly invisible to many well-intentioned supporters.

  3. The proposal does not involve significant natural or national resources and is therefore not fully harmonious with core National Park missions.  The cost of the proposed Park, which is not yet fully known, will compete with the massive maintenance backlog in the National Park system.  Or, if borne by DOE, these additional costs will become part of the ongoing management crisis in DOE’s national security mission.

  4. The balkanization of ownership and control of these sites between federal and powerful non-federal actors ensures, in practical terms, that NPS will be subordinate to these other actors.  For example, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is operated by a for-profit consortium of contractors (Los Alamos National Security, LLC), which annually receives and spends in the neighborhood of $2.2 billion.  LANS and DOE jointly control access, security, safety, and maintenance at LANL.  LANS is a highly interest-conflicted party.
  5. Given the inherent problems, it is quite likely that the management cost of the proposed Park for the NPS – in dollars and otherwise – will exceed current expectations.  It is quite possible that the chronic problems at some of these sites, combined with the inherent problems in this proposal, will combine to damage the reputation of NPS, not just in this country but to some degree worldwide.

2.  There are specific problems at the sites in question

  1. The sites are small, widely separated, have complicated ownership and boundary configurations, have significant safety and security issues, will be rarely accessible to the public in some cases, and in at least some cases if not all are operated by for-profit contractors, not the federal government.

  2. Some sites will be accessible by the public only rarely, and public access will definitely interfere with the national security missions underway surrounding those sites.  At other sites, public access may interfere with cleanup activities.

  3. At present, the boundaries and sites of the Park at LANL are unspecified in any proposed legislation or underlying document.  Park sites are defined in a draft contractor document which is publicly unavailable.  After passage of the proposed enabling legislation they can be redefined without congressional scrutiny by negotiation between federal and private parties.

3.  The alleged benefits of the proposed Park are overstated.

  1. These sites will not provide a comprehensive picture of the Manhattan Project, which occurred at dozens of sites, not three.

  2. Extensive interpretative museums concerning the Manhattan Project already exist, at some of these sites and elsewhere.  Some are taxpayer funded.

  3. Few if any of these sites will be tourist draws or provide economic value to the surrounding communities.

  4. Some sites are already national landmarks.  It is not clear there is any added benefit to National Park status.

4.  Critical questions regarding such a Park remain unanswered at this time.

  1. As DOE testified to Congress in April of this year, DOE “has not assessed the operational difficulties in terms of security and public health and safety, applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and the potential new cost of national park designation at our sensitive national security and cleanup sites.”  This is a shocking list of unanswered questions after nearly a decade of study.

  2. As noted above, the actual boundaries of the Park are not yet known or specified in the subject legislation and are likely to be fluid after passage.

  3. Also as noted above, the costs of this proposal are unknown – to NPS, DOE, and to their respective missions. 

References, legislative history, background information, and a discussion of critical issues concerning the proposed Park will be supplied in a day or two.

After failing to pass the House as a free-standing bill under a two-thirds majority rule, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act passed the House, a noted above, as part of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.  As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee your views will be crucial in deciding whether the Manhattan Project National Historic Park Act will be included in the Senate version of Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

We urge you to oppose this amendment.

Thank you for your attention,

Greg Mello, Executive Director
Mia Gandenberger, Visiting Fellow
Trish Williams-Mello, Operations Director

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