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Perry tours Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and Oak Ridge lab

Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday, May 22, 2017. Perry said his goal is to protect jobs and funding for his agency and its research facilities. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday that he will fight to keep jobs and boost funding for research facilities like Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The secretary’s comments appeared at odds with President Donald Trump’s budget priorities released in March that outlined $900 million in cuts to the department’s Office of Science, which oversees 10 national labs including Oak Ridge.

Perry, a former Texas governor, likened the budget proposal to an opening offer that he expects to see significantly changed in Congress.

“I will remind you this is not my first rodeo when it comes to budgeting,” he said. “I understand you’ve got to start from somewhere, and this is the budget that we started from.”

Perry toured the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Perry dug up earth with an excavator made up of components made by the facility’s 3-D printer, and took laps of the parking lot in a 3-D printed vehicle.

“I will be a strong advocate not only for the funding of this (lab and others like it) but obviously the expansion of that in the places where it makes sense,” Perry said after the tour.

“Hopefully we will be able to make that argument to our friends in Congress that what DOE is involved with plays a vital role, not only in the security of America but the economic well-being of the country as we go forward.”

Perry, who once called for the abolition of the Energy Department, has since become an outspoken proponent of the department’s importance, particularly of the cutting-edge research conducted at the national labs.

Perry acknowledged he has “not been in the job long enough to go through the budget line item by line item” but said he is “doing my homework every day.”

Perry was joined on the tour by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and chairman of the energy appropriations subcommittee, who noted that he recently wrote the bill designating $3 billion for Oak Ridge programs.

“We have the same priorities that Secretary Perry saw and was so impressed by today,” Alexander said. “I’m sure we’ll come up with an appropriations bill that moves Oak Ridge and Y-12 forward.”

Perry said his marching orders when he was hired by Trump were to replicate what he had done as governor of Texas.

“That’s my challenge, that’s my goal, is to take the things that the Department of Energy is so on the cutting edge of, to commercialize them, create jobs, to create wealth, to lead this country,” he said.

For example, Perry said, the United States needs to regain its position as having the world’s fastest supercomputers.

“We took our eye off the ball somewhere over the course of the last few years,” he said. “We’re still darn good at it, but we don’t’ have the fastest computers. But we will. And we will because of the commitment of this administration.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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