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SO LONG, SPENCE

Abraham.gifMost of the attention today is on Colin and Condi. But Defense Tech has had a somewhat, um, intimate relationship with the Department of Energy and its nuclear labs. And so I'd like to distract you for a moment, with a bit about Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's departure from the cabinet. Because he may have been one of the few, authentic good guys on Dubya's first-term team.As the Times rightly points out, gas prices nearly doubled under Abraham's watch. And the country never could put together a particularly coherent energy policy. But with two oilmen as his bosses, I don't think Abraham ever really had much of a chance in these areas.What Abraham did have control over is the country's nuclear research centers. And on that topic, you've got to give him some credit. Because he leaves the American nuclear weapons complex safer than when he found it.After a seemingly-endless series of scandals at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Abraham forced the feckless lab chief John Browne out, and installed a former admiral in his place. When computer disks with atomic secrets went missing, Abraham ordered the labs to stop using 'em, and move to a "diskless" working environment, instead a move watchdog groups had been begging for years for someone to make. He ordered the removal of nuclear material from the lab's most vulnerable areas. And Abraham broke with 60 years of tradition, opening up Los Alamos' management contract to competitive bidding for the first time, the San Francisco Chronicle notes.

Abraham was "a real visionary" in his push for improved security at the nation's post-9/11 nuclear weapons complex, said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Procurement, an activist group in Washington, D.C., that is normally highly critical of the Energy Department."He was able to dramatically increase security standards and really was willing to go head to head with a very stubborn bureaucracy" that preferred less stringent safeguards -- in particular, the National Nuclear Security Administration, whose employees tend to be overly close to the nuclear weapons labs that they're charged with overseeing, Brian said."It's a club -- it's very insular," and Abraham tried with some success to overcome its insularity, she added. "The next (energy) secretary will have to fill big shoes."
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