Members of Congress and the heads of several National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) sites said Wednesday that the agency will be unable to significantly reduce the $3.7 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at the current pace and funding level of infrastructure work.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said during a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing that during his visits to NNSA facilities, he witnessed tarps covering diagnostic equipment worth tens of millions of dollars to protect against leaking roofs, concrete falling from ceilings into work spaces, and other concerning infrastructure issues.

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He asked witnesses whether it would be possible to tackle all of the agency’s deferred maintenance at the pace the enterprise has addressed deferred maintenance in recent years. Charlie McMillan, director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, suggested it would take “roughly a decade of work to work that off, assuming of course we continue to get stable funding and we’re able to spend it.”

“You are never going to resolve these deferred maintenance issues at the pace we’ve been addressing them,” Rogers countered, calling the decade-long estimate “overly optimistic.”

According to Morgan Smith, president and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security, the contractor at the Y-12 National Security Complex and the Pantex Plant, “absent additional funding, and given the trajectory we’re on, we will never reduce it to zero as you would envision it, because some of these [aging] systems just have to be replaced in the end.”

NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz said that progress in tackling deferred maintenance would require significant long-term investment. Asked by Rogers if this progress is feasible at the current pace and without additional funding, Klotz said, “in my opinion, sir, no.”

NNSA’s fiscal 2017 budget request for deferred maintenance exceeds the currently enacted amount by $17 million. The near-term future of agency funding remains unclear, as a congressional delay in a budget agreement could lead to a continuing resolution that would freeze funding at current levels.

John Ricciardelli, president of Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies [HON], the contractor at the Kansas City National Security Campus, said that the plant’s new facility is under an agreement that directs 10 percent of the lease into maintaining the facility, an approach that members of Congress said should be used in its own budget process.

“I’m almost wondering if it’s budgeting malpractice in Congress if for any new project we do not set aside funding for future maintenance,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said.

Klotz outlined the steps NNSA is taking to reduce deferred maintenance, including increasing funds for recapitalization and maintenance, deploying new project management tools to improve the agency’s investment decisions, continuing disposal of excess facilities, and completing a site condition review of NNSA facility physical security systems as part of a 10-year security refresh strategy.

McMillan highlighted the challenge posed by the condition of lab infrastructure to recruitment of new technical talent. Los Alamos will be hiring approximately a third of its workforce – around 3,000 people – in upcoming years, and “we are having to put many of those people into what is unquestionably substandard space,” he said.

“When their comparison is what’s happening in Silicon Valley, we aren’t even in the same league,” McMillan said, adding, “We need space that’s worthy of their service to the country.”