New Mexico Tech Receives $34 Million in Federal Budget, Oct. 3, 2008

for Observatory, First Responder Training

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 3, 2008 – President George W. Bush on Tuesday signed the appropriations budget that funds several important research projects at New Mexico Tech.

New Mexico Tech will receive more than $37 million for research projects in the appropriations bill. The bill will also maintain federal government funding from Oct. 1 to March 6, 2009. The state-supported university in Socorro will receive funding for first-responder training and Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

“We’re very pleased that the President has signed a budget that will continue to help New Mexico Tech support our national security work, especially in counter-terrorism and first responder training,” Tech President Daniel H. López said. “Collectively, these programs provide us funding to play a role in supporting national defense and homeland security.”

Magdalena Ridge Observatory will receive $7 million to continue to develop optics systems. The expenditure comes from the U.S. Navy’s research and development funds.

Van Romero, New Mexico Tech Vice President of Research and Economic Development, said the funding will ensure that the university can complete building and installing specialized equipment and instruments for the state-of-the-art facility.

The $69 million project had already received $52 million for construction and development. The interferometer, which will ultimately feature 10 optical telescopes, is scheduled for “first light” in 2010. This round of funding will keep the facility on schedule. The facility also includes a separate 2.4-meter optical telescope that recently entered the operational phase.

The Playas Training and Research Center will receive $4.8 million in Department of Defense research and development funding to continue its training and exercise capabilities for homeland defense and joint-force training exercises. The center received $3.2 million last year.

Tech trains more than 10,000 first responders every year, many of whom spend time at Playas, a former mining town in southwest New Mexico. The university purchased the entire town in 2002 and converted the facilities to a training center. Students at Playas do not pay for their training. Federal funding allows the Center to offer free instruction to the nation’s firefighters, police officers, military personnel and other first responders.

From the Department of Homeland Security budget, Tech will receive $23 million for its work through the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium. Tech trains first responders to be ready for terrorist attacks and incidents involving weapons of mass destruction, through its division, Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center. Romero said the appropriation marks a $1 million increase over the 2008 budget.

“We’re happy to see that budget increase,” Romero said. “That will help pay for the increasing transportation costs of bringing first responders to New Mexico.”

Tech was the founding member of the consortium, which now includes Texas A&M, the Nevada Test Site, the Transportation Technology Center at Pueblo, Colo., and the University of Hawaii. The consortium members received a total of $102 million from DHS.

The appropriations bill also includes $3.2 million for the University Strategic Partnership, which includes New Mexico Tech. This defense-wide research and development expenditure will support the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, whose mission is to safeguard America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction in the current unstable world, Romero said.

The Agency solicited help several years ago from universities to address global issues of safety. Tech, along with the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University, won the original competitive bid to create and manage the University Strategic Partnership.

Domenici, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the end-of-session appropriations package is a $600 billion package to keep the federal government open after the Oct. 1 start of the 2009 fiscal year.

“Frankly, progress on appropriations in Congress has been abysmal this year. A continuing resolution is not the best option for funding the federal government and allowing agencies to plan ahead. It is an abdication of our constitutional responsibility to fund the government, a process that has a real-world impact on the lives of people in New Mexico and across the country,” Domenici said.

– NMT –