Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Bill Broad's broadside - A final word . . .
At Los Alamos, Blogging Their Discontent
A blog rebellion among scientists and engineers at Los Alamos, the federal government's premier nuclear weapons laboratory, is threatening to end the tenure of its director, G. Peter Nanos.
Four months of jeers, denunciations and defenses of Dr. Nanos's management recently culminated in dozens of signed and anonymous messages concluding that his days were numbered. The postings to a public Web log conveyed a mood of self-congratulation tempered with sober discussion of what comes next.
''Some here will celebrate that they have been able to run the sheriff out of Dodge,'' Gary Stradling, a veteran Los Alamos scientist who is a staunch defender of Dr. Nanos, wrote Tuesday on the blog.
''It might be a good idea,'' Mr. Stradling added, ''to shut down the celebration and form a work party to clean up Dodge City, because the new sheriff will if we do not.''
The blogging comes at a delicate moment in the 62-year history of Los Alamos. The University of California, which has helped run the laboratory for the government since the days of the Manhattan Project, faces close scrutiny in Washington as to whether its contract should be renewed. And resignations and fears of a mass exodus have recently roiled the waters. Some analysts believe that now, given the public outcry, the university will have to abandon Dr. Nanos in order to make a credible bid to keep its contract.
Dr. Nanos would not comment. A spokesman for Los Alamos, Kevin Roark, said false rumors of the director's resignation had circulated for months. Mr. Roark added that Dr. Nanos was extraordinarily proud of what he had accomplished at Los Alamos, which employs 14,000 people on an annual budget of $2.2 billion.
Mr. Roark called the vitriolic blogging unrepresentative of the majority of employees and said it often had the tone of a sophomoric Halloween prank. ''Everybody, I think, was a little surprised at how mean it got,'' he said.
Several outside experts said that the director's quick departure was inevitable and that the blog's attacks were playing a significant role.
''Nanos is leaving,'' said Greg Mello, the director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a private organization in Albuquerque that monitors weapons laboratories. ''The blog changed the climate, giving people an outlet they didn't have before.''
Blogs seem to be everywhere. But this one is unusual, in that the Los Alamos National Laboratory, isolated in the mountains of New Mexico, has a long history of maintaining the highest level of federal secrecy. The laboratory's very existence was once classified. Today, barbed wire rings many of its buildings, federal agents monitor its communications, and its employees are constantly reminded that loose lips sink ships.
The blog (www.lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com) went public in January and since then has registered more than 100,000 visits, with more than half a million pages viewed and more than 5,000 comments. Discussions run on a variety of topics, from the sanctity of retirement benefits to the likely identity of the next contractor who will run Los Alamos.
Since most messages are anonymous, there is no way to know how many laboratory employees contribute to the blog. Even so, from the sheer volume, detail and differing styles of the messages, the number is clearly many more than a handful. The language, often studded with obscure acronyms, suggests that the authors have a deep knowledge of the laboratory's exotic culture.
Furious debate centers on Dr. Nanos, a retired vice admiral of the Navy who holds a doctorate in physics from Princeton and became the laboratory's director two years ago. Many bloggers criticize his decision to shut down most of the laboratory in July, when he cited ''egregious'' safety and security violations after two computer disks with secret information were reported missing and an intern working with a laser suffered an eye injury. The security alarm turned out to be a clerical error -- the disks, in fact, never existed. Still, Dr. Nanos kept many laboratory areas closed for nearly seven months, until late January. In that time, laboratory personnel worked on improving safety and security.
Dr. Thomas J. Meyer, a distinguished chemist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences who oversaw 2,000 employees as associate director of the laboratory's strategic research, resigned in October during the shutdown and afterward filed a long critique of the episode and the director's acts.
''He chose to transfer blame and intimidate individuals even with a staff that was often attempting to implement difficult and complex safety processes,'' Dr. Meyer said in his critique, which was posted on the blog. He called the director's treatment of laboratory employees ''vindictive and abusive.''
A banner atop the blog site sets the tone, asserting that the shutdown cost taxpayers ''approximately $850 million, an exodus of highly talented staff members, and the loss of untold millions of dollars of funding from customers who have taken their business elsewhere.''
Laboratory officials say the shutdown probably cost $120 million, and federal officials recently put the figure at $370 million.
Mr. Roark, the Los Alamos spokesman, said that the laboratory was worried about a recent spike in retirement inquiries. ''We're not anticipating a mass exodus,'' he said. ''But that doesn't mean we're not concerned about the possibility. We are.''
The blog's creator is Doug Roberts, a computer scientist who is a 20-year laboratory veteran. In an interview, Mr. Roberts said he was inspired to start the blog when he and his colleagues had their critical submissions to a forum on the laboratory's online newspaper rejected.
Mr. Roberts said it was impossible to know how many laboratory personnel contributed to the blog because it was set up to protect their identities, if so desired. He estimated the vocal population at 200 to 500 employees.
The blog runs a petition for Dr. Nanos's removal; it has garnered more than 100 posts, although most are labeled ''Anonymous.''
One who signed openly in February was Dr. Brad Lee Holian, a theoretical physicist who worked at the laboratory for 32 years. Dr. Holian retired a month later.
''People were feeling like they were in a pressure cooker,'' he said in an interview. ''Nanos is so abusive, not just to the general staff but his underlings. People were afraid to say anything. On the blog they could vent without fear of reprisal.''
Jeff Jarvis, who publishes BuzzMachine, a blog that focuses on media issues, said the Los Alamos site showed ''a new ethic of transparency'' that has come with the explosion of electronic self-publishing. ''It's not just the power of the blog,'' Mr. Jarvis said, ''it's the power of the citizen.''
The battle over Dr. Nanos comes as the University of California is considering whether to bid to renew its contract, which expires Sept. 30. Two leading space and military contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, have announced an interest in running the laboratory.
Chris Harrington, a university spokesman, denied that Dr. Nanos was about to resign and defended him as ''clearly understanding the mission of the lab.''
Mr. Harrington added, however, that the university was doing ''a thorough review'' of its management options for a possible bid on the new contract.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Dear Dr. Strangelove:
Somehow, I just got tuned into your new blog, mainly by clicking on your name on a comment you posted about Danny Stillman's book on China, on the new follow-on blog, "LANL: The Rest of the Story." I'm going to add you to the list of links, and suggest that people view your inner sanctum, dark and foreboding though it may be. I note that you are an 'older' LANL guy, but perhaps older is wiser. The mouth-breathers at LANL will need your refreshing perspective in the dark and gloomy days ahead. Nothing will substantially change anywhere in the country (and LANL in particular) until a new Administration is elected and has some time to sweep out the dust in the granite tombstones of democracy in DC. That's two more years, and life in those two years will grind slowly but fine, as Dickens used to say about the wheels of British justice.
Keep up the good work -- and are you, perchance, a veterinarian?
--Pat, the Dog
Thursday, April 05, 2007
We've set up a blog!
However, since you are continuing to blog at LANL: The Corporate Story would you like us to change our template and color scheme so we look different than your site? We aren't trying to steal the show, we simply thought no one else was going to do it.
-Pinky and The Brain
Dear Pinky and The Brain:
Glad to see that there's a new blog. "LANL: The Corporate Story" is only posting breaking news, like Zelicoff's piece, and is going into archive mode for history's sake (along with the original "LANL: The Real Story"), probably around Tax Day. The "rest of the story" ... is up to you!
Go for it!
--Pat, the Dog
Commentary by Alan Zelicoff: Managing the management
Sandia and Los Alamos national labs have been gravy trains for New Mexico, but their slip-ups are slicing into their value
by Alan Zelicoff, Thursday, April 5, 2007Zelicoff, a former senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, is a writer and scientific consultant residing in Albuquerque. His latest book is "Doctor, Don't Just Do Something, Stand There," scheduled for release in June by AMACOM Publishers.
Unlike Los Alamos National Laboratory -- long known for its scientific prowess and more recently for tawdry security lapses -- Sandia National Laboratories has hardly been a household word.
And, for many at Sandia and elsewhere, that was just fine. Indeed, during a visit in 2002 at the height of security scandals raging at Los Alamos, Albuquerque Rep. Heather Wilson started her address to Sandia employees with the comment: "Thank God you aren't Los Alamos."
Nervous laughter followed. But the message was clear: Sandia could continue to quietly hide in the ever darkening shadow of its sister nuclear lab, protecting $2.3 billion budget from serious congressional review.
But that cozy arrangement has just changed. A few weeks ago, a jury awarded almost $5 million to Shawn Carpenter, a computer security expert fired by Sandia in 2005 for allegedly violating lab protocols by uncovering foreign hacking into classified computers in intelligence agencies.
Instead, the jury found that Sandia management violated its own protocols for disciplinary review. Having attended the trial, perhaps the most striking evidence to me was that six layers of management were complicit. Attention to basic management principles was so lax that at the final "termination meeting" in January 2005 -- attended by three vice presidents, including Sandia's chief legal counsel - the assembled brain trust bumbled so badly that it failed to even take minutes.
Most importantly, Carpenter wasn't even given a chance to submit a written statement in his own defense.
Newfound notoriety for management malfeasance couldn't come at a worse time. In a rare moment of consensus, House Energy Committee members from both sides of the aisle have been apoplectic in their dismay over classified Los Alamos documents found in a trailer housing a methamphetamine lab, and equally apocalyptic in their prescription: a full GAO audit, and even threatening a shutdown.
Democrats, determined to pare deficits and joined by many senior Republicans, see a decade of near catastrophic management failures at each of the three main labs: billions in cost overruns at Lawrence Livermore's centerpiece NIF laser fusion project; an exodus of scientific staff from Los Alamos as voluminous as the river of lost classified materials; and now the exposure of Sandia's heretofore obscure abuse of its employees.
Thus, the debate has been rekindled, which could lead to an appropriations backlash. In a post-Cold War world, what is the value of our national laboratories?
Ask any employee what ails the labs, you'll hear "decaying mission and loss of focus." The former reflects the denuclearization of U.S. strategic thinking; the latter is a result of a bloated bureaucracy maintaining dozens of departments running projects far afield from the labs' core responsibility: maintaining the safety and reliability of the dwindling nuclear stockpile.
An uncountable array of new lab programs have emerged, courtesy of taxpayers -- "international programs" and "advanced concepts studies" to name but two keep questionably productive fiefdoms afloat.
To be sure, some products actually useful in daily life, such as sophisticated wind turbines and new energy-saving lights, have trickled out of the labs. But for every entrepreneurial success, there are many more that might have competed well in the marketplace but for ham-fisted management decisions leaving them to gather dust.
With a price tag of more than $1.1 billion for each lab's non-nuclear work, it's not hard to see why the carving knives are being unsheathed in Washington.
Yet the labs are an important source of cash for New Mexico. Should the gravy train stop, the entire state could suffer an economic meltdown. The predictable reaction of our congressional delegation will be to circle the wagons, but they are unlikely to prevail. In the face of repeated embarrassments at the labs, there isn't much of a circle anymore.
Instead, it may be time to think in terms of damage control and plan for a future where Sandia and Los Alamos labs are stably funded for the one mission they do well, shrinking a sprawling failed management bureaucracy and minimizing security snafus in exchange.
Additionally, the DOE must release without redaction their "performance evaluation reports" of the labs. Should managers fail again in their stewardship of once prestigious centers of excellence, annual bonuses exceeding the average New Mexico household income must be withheld.
It's the only way to clean up the mess.
E.W. Scripps Co. © 2006 The Albuquerque Tribune
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
LANL: Bingaman aims to boost lab, science funding
Andy Lenderman | The New Mexican, April 3, 2007
LOS ALAMOS -- Los Alamos National Laboratory can help solve major problems facing the country, from tracking the flow of nuclear materials to developing better energy sources to rely upon, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman said Monday. Bingaman addressed scientists at the lab and small-business owners at Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, and sent the message that he's working to increase federal funding for science work nationally and at the lab.
"My message was very simple," Bingaman said to a crowd of small-business owners and other community members. "We need ... in Washington to get back to a focus on the major long-term challenges that we face in this country. I think we've been diverted from those challenges in recent years, both with the war in Iraq and to some extent with the war on terror."
Bingaman said the lab has "a great deal to contribute" in determining the future of the nuclear weapons stockpile, ensuring that nuclear weapons are not used in the coming decades and "transitioning our economy both in the way that we produce and transmit and use energy, so as to deal not only with our economic security but to deal with the very real problem of greenhouse gas emissions."
Bingaman chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has great influence over national energy policy. He said the committee will address large-scale demonstrations of carbon capture and storage technologies; more promotion of biofuels like ethanol; and tax incentives for producing energy from renewable sources like the sun.
Bingaman also covered a worrisome subject in Northern New Mexico today -- the possibility of layoffs to permanent workers at the lab. Bingaman said it was somewhat surprising when he was asked about that, and he then asked Lab Director Michael Anastasio about it. "He said that he has repeated numerous times that there are no layoffs planned and there is no plan to plan for layoffs," Bingaman said.
Last year, the company that manages the lab announced 350 to 550 layoffs to contract workers. The lab's permanent work force of about 8,920 workers was not affected. Instead, lab managers have been saving money by not filling some vacancies when workers leave.
The lab's overall budget is about $2.2 billion. President Bush's proposed budget for the 2008 fiscal year would cut Los Alamos' money from the Department of Energy by about 1 percent, or $18 million, compared to the 2006 fiscal year.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or email@example.com.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Oh, $#!% ... Oh, Dear ... Oh ! !
Friday June 1, 2007:
The end of the first year of the LANL Contract (held by LANS, LLC; Bechtel/UC to take on LLNL, too.)
Warning: Trains don't have seat belts ... RIFs are rumored on or about October 1st.
might be happening to LANL even earlier than June 1. Stay tuned below ...
(e.g., Teller's Posthumous Revenge: Livermore Wins RRW)
Handwriting is on the wall, and it's in English. Or, to put it another way:
What may have looked like a dog treat
... was something else.[Notice: On midnight, April Fools' Day (how appropos!), all further comments will be disabled. All LANL employees will thence be on their own, as if anyone anywhere cared or noticed. Intestinal or testicular fortitude on the part of LANL staff has been notably lacking, and the results of corporatization have therefore been foreordained. Reporters and Congressional (and DOE/NNSA) staffs may still see some more random postings, but there will be no more random comments from the sheeple at LANL. Forewarned is forearmed. The cyber gold mine will be closed. At ease, men. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. When they give the order, pee in the cup. Sleep. Obey.]
(To enlarge image, click on it. AIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeee .... !!!)Goodbye, and good luck.
--Pat, the Dog.
P.S. If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Corporatized Los Alamos National Lab, I'm not in the least sorry.
A New Blog for LANL? -Probably Not.
LANL staff sitting 'mesmerized by Mikey' (Director Anastasio) at generic All-Hands-Meeting. (Note the love in their zombie eyes, the cheery looks on their pasty faces, the deep-throated roar of approval, in unison ...)
Will there be a new blog for LANL after this present one goes dark on April Fools' Day?
It's really up to you.
Just a couple of weeks after I started "LANL: The Corporate Story," with Doug's generous help, blogspot.com retooled itself with a new, more user-friendly version. It's really quite easy now to become a new blogmeister, from startup to up-and-running. Of course, there is some learning that will occur as you go, but you don't have to be a computer genius, and I surely am not. (I've even learned more about html as I went along, thanks to Google.) The blogspot.com utility allows for easy uploads of pictures now, so that after the first week or so, when that new capability became available, I no longer had to rely on Doug's server for that.
Doug has graciously allowed the "Contact Pat" link to my anonymous e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) to continue for the time being. As a result, I can post a new link to YOUR new follow-on blog right here on this old blog: all you have to do is e-mail me; I'll check out your home page; if it looks good, I'll post the link; and then, if you have any questions about operational subtleties, e-mail me and I'll try to guide you through the problems as best I can. If I can't figure it out, I'll pass the question on to Doug; if he can't figure it out, well, maybe you're hosed. Usually, the defaults and simple stuff are good enough -- for government work, anyway.
Yes, beginning Sunday morning, no more comments will be allowed -- no sense in anyone wading through a bunch of ridiculous April Fools' jokes. There has been talk in the hallways and some comments here on the blog about the desire to keep a LANL blog going: for example, to see who gets the Livermore contract and to announce the new slate of RIFs sometime around October 1st. However, your present blogmeister will not be doing much after Sunday, as I contemplate a welcome rest from the world of blogging. (It isn't really all that bad, but it's time for a new perspective from someone else out there. I confess that I am burned out from watching LANL crumble under the weight of NNSA's and Congress's incompetence -- and often outright hostility -- not to mention the greed and the level of sabotage by LANS upper management.)
My suggestion is that a couple of you get together and do like Doug and Brad did on the previous blog, "LANL: The Real Story." It would have been good to have someone to spell me when I was out of town, or when I just couldn't get to the computer to browse the web, though it is easy to remotely log in from my laptop or my Blackberry when on travel.
So, as I said before, go for it. It's really up to you, my good friends.
P.S. Now, here's an example of the art of blogmeistership: This was sent to me today at email@example.com:
I would like to submit a few paragraphs on "retribution" a few years ago, as well as now, if you show me how to do it ANONYMOUSLY.
So, as you can see, all mention of the sender's name can be kept in confidence, and an honest blogmeister like yours, truly, will do just that. For even greater anonymity, set up another account with your internet provider, using a pseudonym -- such as, for example, PatTheDog@internetprovider.com.
Dear Pat, The Dog,
I occasionally read your blog, time permitting. I've noticed an apparent decline in the general morale at LANL, at least as indicated by those who post to your blog. It occurred to me that it might be heartening for staff to learn that there is life after LANL, if that is the desired choice. As an example, you can access a press release on some of my current work, being conducted at my new place of employment, by clicking on the title of this post or the link below:http://www.rti.org/page.cfm?nav=640&objectid=E441EE2F-04EB-4593-A2C3F6930685E110
The work is fun stuff, with the added bonus that it is being conducted in an environment that is far less dysfunctional than what existed at LANL in 2005 when I left. I can only imagine what conditions are like there now.
Feel free to post this to your blog, if you feel it appropriate. Also, thanks for all the work you have put in to the LTCS blog. Sorry to see you shutting it down, but I completely understand your reasons for wanting to do so.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Bingaman to speak at LANL, Monday 2 April
Senator Jeff Bingaman will speak about the future of science and national security at Los Alamos in the NSSB Auditorium, at 10:15 am, Monday 2 April. Some grist for the Q&A mill from some earlier posts:
FROM: Brad Lee Holian
SUBJECT: Reliable Replacement Warhead decision
DATE: 5 March 2007
TO: Senator Jeff Bingaman
United States Senate
Dear Senator Bingaman:
It is with considerable urgency that I write to you about the recent decision regarding the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) that was handed down on March 2, 2007, by the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy. In that decision, the design put forward by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was chosen over the one from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Paramount among the myriad problems that privatization has caused LANL is this matter of the RRW and its impact upon the nation’s nuclear security; so let me focus on that issue alone.
I believe that there are several significant concerns about weaknesses in the Livermore design that ought to be addressed in Senate hearings. In order to help you sort out some of these issues, I believe that your committee would be well advised to subpoena two witnesses from Los Alamos to testify: Joe Martz, the RRW team leader, and John Pedicini, the principal designer. (By subpoenaing them, you can protect them from potential reprisals.)
The issues that these two LANL gentlemen can address before your committee are as follows:
(1) Contrary to misstatements by NNSA’s chief, Tom D’Agostino, the Livermore design is not more “conservative” than Los Alamos’s. In order that the RRW satisfy the security and safety requirements of the Navy, both designs that were submitted were equally far from any Cold War nuclear warhead that was tested before the moratorium imposed by the first President Bush in 1992.
(2) Unlike the LANL design, the LLNL design does not meet the Navy’s security and safety requirements, that is, safety from accidental detonation (including from a nearby explosion), whether deliberate or accidental, under all imaginable transportation, terrorist, or wartime scenarios.
(3) The process by which the RRW design was chosen was deeply flawed, since the members of the committee (five from the military and two from NNSA) that performed hours of in-depth technical reviews over 18 months, voted overwhelmingly for the LANL design. Since the RRW is intended for placement aboard submarines, which carry by far the largest number of nuclear weapons in the arsenal, the Navy’s wishes ought to have been paramount, but they were overruled by NNSA’s political, rather than technical considerations.
(4) LANL’s new design, while not tested in its entirety in an underground explosion at the Nevada Test Site, is far from being “untested.” In fact, a number of experiments were performed on various facets of the design, including a non-nuclear implosion, diagnosed by radiography. Both the LANL and LLNL teams carried out independent computer simulations of each other’s RRW designs. Los Alamos’s computer simulations correctly predicted the marginal behavior of the Livermore design, and the successful behavior of their own; Livermore’s simulations erroneously predicted the “failure” of the Los Alamos design. On the other hand, the LANL team’s calculation of the implosion experiment, carried out prior to the actual experiment, correctly predicted the results, while the LLNL team’s calculation did not. This calls into question not only the capabilities of the Livermore designers, but the computational tools they use.
As a result of this troubling set of observations about the RRW competition between Los Alamos and Livermore, it would be appropriate and wise to receive sworn testimony from Joe Martz and John Pedicini. It would also be useful to subpoena the members of the Project Officers’ Group (POG), the only decision-making body that oversaw all technical aspects of the RRW competition, to ascertain under oath how they voted.
The ultimate goal of reducing the world’s nuclear arsenals cannot be accomplished without a reliable deterrent—both physical and intellectual—and I believe that the Los Alamos design (and the team that created it) is the only way to achieve that highly desirable end.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter of utmost importance to national security.
—Brad Lee Holian
Santa Fe, NM
[Disclaimer: I am an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory, but I speak to you as a concerned American citizen. The opinions I’ve expressed in this letter do not reflect those of the management of LANL (LANS, LLC), nor of NNSA or DOE.]
__________The response from Bingaman (dated March 16, 2007):
Dear Mr. Holian :
Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) recent selection of a design by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).
Following the award announcement, my staff traveled to NNSA headquarters for a detailed briefing on the Livermore design and why it was selected. While classification issues prevent me from commenting on the specifics of the selected proposal, it is my understanding that the Livermore design was believed to offer scientists a greater degree of certainty without additional testing. With this said, I have forwarded your letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee with the request that they consider the issues you've raised during their oversight hearing with the NNSA. Additionally, I plan to meet with members of the Armed Services Committee following that hearing to ensure that they are comfortable with the overall selection process. Please be assured that I have followed the development of the RRW project very carefully; I will do what I can to ensure that the recent award to LLNL does not negatively impact the morale or quality of science at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Again, thank you for writing. Please continue to keep me informed regarding matters of importance to you and your community.
United States Senator
__________Based on the NM Congressional Delegation's response to Holian's letter, let me make the following prognostications:
* The weapons program at LANL will go into a steep decline (funding and morale), followed in due course by a decline in other, more basic research efforts at LANL. The LANL Pit Factory (Rocky Flats South) will remain, but only for a couple of years, before it, too, will slowly wither away.
* LLNL will be the "intellectual" center of the DOE weapons complex for the future, but not for long: that "future" will also begin to decline, since LLNL is behind LANL by two years in the inexorable (irreversible) mad rush to privatization.
* The RRW will never be built, but it will be funded -- for only about two more years.
The Cold War has ended; the Manhattan Project has faded from memory.
The handwriting is on the wall; you see it before you.
--Pat, the Dog
LANL Security Probe Will Not Be Delayed
-John Arnold (Staff Writer, ABQ Journal, Santa Fe Edition, Saturday, March 31, 2007)
A powerful congressional committee has rejected a request from New Mexico lawmakers to delay a government inquiry into Los Alamos National Laboratory security problems. House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., last month asked the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the feasibility of moving classified activities to other national laboratories "where there is a better track record with respect to security."
Earlier this month, Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., wrote to committee leaders, asking that the GAO hold off on the investigation for six months to allow lab managers time to implement new operating and security procedures. Dingell and ranking member Joe Barton, R-Texas, rejected the request this week, saying that the GAO study "will not interfere with any steps (LANL managers) may be taking to improve security."
"The national security failures at Los Alamos are a matter of the utmost urgency," Dingell and Barton wrote in a letter dated March 27. Dingell has asked GAO to evaluate how LANL can reduce and consolidate the volume of classified material and the "security footprint" of the lab. His request followed January's congressional hearing in which lawmakers grilled LANL and Department of Energy officials over the lab's most recent security breach the discovery of hundreds of classified documents in the home of a former lab contractor.
Domenici said in a news release issued Friday that he is disappointed with Dingell's decision to move forward with the investigation. "However, if this GAO investigation goes forward, I believe it should focus on evaluating cost-effective security solutions at the lab, as opposed to solely focusing on punitive and unproductive assessments that would only lend themselves to breaking up the lab," Domenici said.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Boom in Tech Contracts Sparks Complex Debate; A Mecca in Virginia
By BERNARD WYSOCKI JR., Wall Street Journal Online, March 30, 2007; Page A1
TYSONS CORNER, Va. -- The moment visitors arrive in the lobby of the campuslike headquarters of Mitre Corp., they're asked: Do you have a national-security clearance?
If the answer is yes, Mitre's receptionists tap a few computer keys to verify. If it's no, the visitor gets a special badge and a constant escort. It's the sort of scrutiny one might expect at the Defense Department or a U.S. intelligence agency.
Mitre is one step from that: a private company with one major client, the U.S. government. Mitre does high-tech engineering and other computer work for the Pentagon, various intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security -- and business is booming.OUTSOURCING BONANZA
"There is no doubt that post-9/11 there is more growth than we have experienced historically," says Chief Executive Alfred Grasso. In 2006, Mitre, a nonprofit that runs three federally funded research-and-development groups, says revenues topped $1 billion for the first time.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal government's demand for complex technology has soared. But Washington often doesn't have the expertise to take on new high-tech projects, or the staff to oversee them. As a result, officials are increasingly turning to contractors, in particular the hundreds of companies in Tysons Corner and the surrounding Fairfax County that operate some of the government's most sensitive and important undertakings.
The risk of this approach, in the words of Warren Suss, a Jenkintown, Pa., consultant and expert on federal computer outsourcing, is that the government could wind up "outsourcing its brain." The number of private federal contractors has soared to 7.5 million, four times bigger than the federal civilian work force itself, according to Paul Light of New York University. Congress, meanwhile, is learning how hard it is to keep tabs on these activities.
As a Mecca for this sort of work, Tysons Corner has emerged as outsourcing central. Once known mostly for its shopping malls, it's now a land of glass towers, manicured office parks and Tiffany boutiques, where private-sector budget analysts, project managers and highly paid executives do the work that clock-punching civil servants in downtown D.C., 10 miles to the west, can't do.
The government still buys pencils and office furniture, but now relies on others for sophisticated technology work, especially what's known as "systems integration" -- pulling together complex information networks for the military, homeland-security personnel and others.
"Our ignorance is their gain," says Richard Skinner, inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. Projects currently under way range from the design of next-generation military computer networks to the oversight of a $30 billion electronic "fence" being built along the Mexican border.Teaming Up
Outsourcing originally sprang from concerns about overspending and mismanagement by the government itself. Starting in the 1980s, agencies realized it was cheaper to buy certain services directly from companies. In the 1990s, teaming up with the private sector became a popular idea, in part as a way to reduce the number of federal employees on the books.
Today, the potential pitfalls are legion. Big contracts are notorious for cost overruns and designs that don't work, much of which takes place under loose or ineffective government scrutiny. Underlying this tension is the fundamental question of whether one system is better than the other.
Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has castigated the Department of Homeland Security for lax oversight of the Coast Guard's $24 billion fleet modernization, which is being run by two defense giants. He has also faulted its management of the "fence" project, formally called the Secure Border Initiative, complaining that 60 of the 98 people overseeing the border project are contractors.
Outsourcing details to private contractors "can be a prescription for enormous fraud, waste and abuse," Rep. Waxman said during a February hearing on the issue.
Mr. Skinner, the Homeland Security inspector general, says his investigation into the Coast Guard project, known as Integrated Deepwater System, found inadequate management and oversight, resulting in delays, cost increases and design flaws.
Deepwater, awarded in 2002, is a 25-year program aimed at upgrading the Coast Guard's boats, aircraft and communications systems. The contract was awarded to a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Unlike standard contractors, they were given a bigger role overseeing the project's many different strands.
Mr. Skinner says his office found that the top decision makers were contractors, not civil servants. The Coast Guard was relegated to the role of "adviser" on technical matters, and was essentially shut out of decisions on subcontracts. Partly as a result, he says, the cost of the first two large armed boats, called cutters, is expected to be well beyond the $775 million original estimate.
During congressional hearings on the matter, a Lockheed Martin executive defended the program. The performance "has been closely supervised by the Coast Guard" with additional oversight by Homeland Security, Congress and the Government Accountability Office, he said.
The Coast Guard recently stripped some management work from the Northrop-Lockheed venture, saying it could acquire 12 smaller cutters faster and at lower cost.
Mr. Skinner says Homeland Security is also trying to exert more oversight over its "fence" project. One problem is that the department, with 900 procurement officers, constantly battles turnover. He says the department is lucky if it can keep procurement personnel for three years before they bolt -- to places such as Tysons Corner.
Once a sleepy crossroads, the area has boomed in part because of its location halfway between downtown Washington and Dulles International Airport, straddling the Beltway that rings the capital.
The Tysons area and surrounding Fairfax County have enjoyed the boom in federal procurement in the post-9/11 era, with $18 billion of work performed in the area in 2006, up from about $10 billion in 2000. To economists such as Stephen Fuller of nearby George Mason University, Tysons is a natural anchor for outsourcing, close to the "honey," of the federal government, and attractive to young engineers and entrepreneurs.
One flashpoint today is whether contractors hire other contractors without enough controls or competition. In March, Rep. Waxman introduced a bill that would put limits on contracts awarded without competitive bidding. It passed the House by a wide margin and is raising fears among contractors that it could dent their growth. Federal procurement is already expected to slow because of budget constraints and the slowing of the post-9/11 spending boom.
Rep. Waxman's staff, in a Feb. 8 memo, said that "at least one contractor hired to engage in contract oversight on the border project, Booz Allen Hamilton, may have a conflict of interest with Boeing Co.," the prime contractor. Booz Allen has done consulting work for Boeing and has been a member of the Boeing team on other contracts.
Ralph Shrader, chief executive at Booz Allen, flatly denies the charge. "I take the greatest exception to the idea of conflict of interest," Dr. Shrader says, adding that Booz Allen is doing "support" and "coordination" work on behalf of the government, and doesn't "oversee" Boeing. He adds that Booz Allen has for decades taken pains to avoid conflicts of interest, and has a rigorous process to avoid such conflicts. (Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has hired Booz Allen to help the company with its news strategy.)
Booz Allen epitomizes the successful, well-connected Tysons consultant-contractor on a giant scale. Once mostly a management consultant to corporations based in New York City, Booz Allen's government business now accounts for more than 50% of its $4 billion in revenue. In 1992, it moved its headquarters to Tysons Corner.
The firm's past three CEOs have come from the government side of the firm. Dr. Shrader, with a Ph.D. in engineering and CEO since 1999, had experience on the commercial side early in his career. Since 2000, Booz Allen's revenue has doubled in size. It plans to hire 4,000 people in 2007 alone, adding to an existing work force of 18,000 people.
Booz Allen has extensive government contracts -- totaling more than $2 billion a year -- with the Pentagon, intelligence services and various civilian agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.
It employs numerous retired military officers and former intelligence-agency chiefs. Retired Navy Admiral J. Michael McConnell, former head of the National Security Agency, was a $2 million-a-year Booz Allen executive until President Bush named him director of national intelligence in late 2006. James Woolsey, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is another rainmaker.
Booz Allen does so much business with the Department of Defense that it conducts brown-bag lunches for young civilian recruits dubbed "DOD 101," where it explains, among other things, the difference between the insignia of a captain and a general. Ex-military types attend a "forum" to learn the commercial ropes, as well as ways of working in less hierarchical environments.
The company argues that it can mobilize staff more quickly and cheaply than the government. As one example, Booz Allen cites its work on the Pentagon's communications network, which was damaged in the 9/11 attack. Booz Allen says it put together a special "surge" team to design what it calls "survivable telecom system." It turned the plans over to the Pentagon in just six weeks.Grand Database
Among its more controversial projects was Total Information Awareness, a Defense Department plan for a grand database to thwart terrorists. It was conceived shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and soon came under criticism from members of Congress and others as a privacy invasion, before being scrapped. "I really have no problems with the decisions we have made," says Dr. Shrader, who adds, without being specific, that "there are things we have chosen not to do."
Booz Allen has filled up its headquarters, which is technically located in McLean, Va. County zoning rules won't let the company add more people beyond its current 6,500, so Booz Allen has set up another campus near Dulles airport, which housed 1,700 people as of February.
Fueling the growth at Booz Allen and other big firms is a move toward giant, complex projects, awarded by Uncle Sam but pulled together by what's called a "lead systems integrator." Big contractors have become even more powerful in the post-9/11 era, some say, because the government has turned conservative, preferring to award contracts on critical national-security projects to proven players, especially as knowledgeable civil servants retire.
The U.S. government "is losing their system engineering, program management, acquisition expertise," said Kenneth Dahlberg, CEO of Science Applications International Corp., of San Diego, at a recent Wall Street investor conference. He vowed that his company, one of the biggest federal contractors with 44,000 employees, would be there to fill the void. SAIC recently formed a special team to go after big government contracts valued at $100 million or larger.Portraits at the Palm
The contracting industry has consolidated recently, with big guys buying up many midsize firms. That's apparent from the walls of the tony Palm restaurant in Tysons Corner. Unlike its downtown Washington, D.C., counterpart, which displays caricatures of people from the political world, the portraits at the Tysons Palm run toward local technology entrepreneurs and founders of federal contracting companies, many of whom have made fortunes selling to big contractors. One is of Ed Bersoff. He founded BTG Inc., a government-contracting company, and sold it for $174 million in 2002 to another contractor, which has itself since been acquired.
In this small neighborhood, big contractors have started bumping into each other. A few years ago, Booz Allen tangled with next-door neighbor SAIC after the road near the two companies' office towers was named "SAIC Drive." After some back and forth, that part of the road was given a new name: Solutions Drive.
Fairfax County is now home to 358 foreign-owned firms, some of which have been lured by the county's Economic Development Authority, which has five overseas offices. Recently, Camero Inc., a unit of a Tel Aviv company, set up shop in Tysons Corner so it can better promote a radar system that can see through brick or concrete walls.
Robert Judd, the president, says he considered Arlington, Va., but the atmosphere seemed very Pentagon-centric. The office parks near Dulles seemed too commercial in nature. So he settled on Tysons, halfway between them, and a blend of the two.
The one drawback is the traffic. "We work 7 a.m. until 4 to avoid the worst of it," says Mr. Judd.Write to Bernard Wysocki Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org 1
A sampling of large federal contracts
Company Value Covers Relevant agency
Electronic Data Systems Corp. $3.26 billion Data processing and telecommunications Defense Department/Navy
$1.66 billion Electronic identification systems Multiple agencies
$295.9 million Defense enterprise services Defense
Northrop Grumman Corp. $10.14 billion Sustaining B-2 bomber Defense/Air Force
$3.93 billion Aircraft carriers Defense/Navy
$3.9 billion Amphibious assault ships Defense/ Navy
Computer Sciences Corp. $2.2 billion Engineering services Defense/Air Force
$1.41 billion Prime integration services Treasury/Internal Revenue Service
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. $1.29 billion Information system design Multiple agencies
$595.4 million Management, organization improvement multiple agencies
Science Applications International Corp. $1.95 billion Computer aided design Health and Human Services/
National Institutes of Health
$1.92 billion Automated data-processing software multiple agencies
Source: Eagle Eye Publishers, based on public federal data
Hyperlinks in this Article:
(1) mailto:email@example.com Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Can you please post a new thread on "Do you know a good labor lawyer?" before you retire?
Post away, folks. Time is running out.
Building weapons to reduce weapons
by Jay Davis and Bill Nebo (San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, March 30, 2007)
Having the sense that the national discussion about the new generation of nuclear weapons will go on for some time, we decided as old friends with very different perspectives to see if we could join our knowledge and opinions and come to a common conclusion about the weapon and the program to build it, the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
We hoped that success in this matter would provide a useful guide for others as the dialogue and debate go forward. Programs dealing with weapons that can cause mass casualties and environmental change create moral and political concerns that must be addressed each time we renew them. We contend that our nation should be intentionally and responsibly led into visiting these political and moral concerns at the front end of efforts to renew our nuclear arsenal.
First: What is a reliable replacement warhead?
It is the first weapon to go into the nuclear stockpile in more than 20 years. It is designed to replace existing weapons carried on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and to be safer and more secure, with a much longer service lifetime. It is not a new weapon, in the sense of its military capabilities or of the targets to which it would be assigned. As such, it represents no change in use doctrine or threat. Our current weapons were not designed to last as long as they already have. While the plutonium cores continue to be viable, the non-nuclear components that live for decades in the low-radiation level of the cores weren't designed to last this long. In the past, were these parts to be replaced with modern ones, as one would logically do in rebuilding a car, a nuclear test would have been called for to validate the weapon's performance. Such a test is not possible under the moratorium. The military reaction to questions of reliability is to want large numbers of weapons in reserve, and to have multiple types of weapons, impeding further efforts to reduce the remaining large American and Russian nuclear stockpiles.
Second: Why build a reliable replacement warhead?
Having a more reliable weapon will allow the United States to reduce the size of its arsenal as fewer weapons will be needed to achieve a credible deterrent. The weapon offers the possibility of reducing the size and cost of the nuclear weapons-production complex, while making it more responsive to possible future threats -- that is, after a substantial investment.
On the other hand, the case against reliable replacement warheads is similarly stated: That it would encourage proliferation and, being a new weapon, would somehow lead to new threats of use or a lower threshold to use.
The first is easy to dismiss: Proliferation directed against us is stimulated almost exclusively by our conventional military superiority and by our policies and actions, such as the assertion of the unilateral right to declare pre-emptive war to repel or deter an attack, and to cause regime change in other nations at our whim.
Nuclear proliferation among regional neighbors (e.g., Egypt and Saudi Arabia versus Iran, Japan or Taiwan versus China, South Korea versus North Korea) is little affected by our weapons policies, unless we fail to make guarantees to allies under our nuclear umbrella both clear and credible.
As for the second, the reliable replacement warhead is not a new weapon and has no new utility, something that in fact the military may not like.
We believe that before this program goes forward, the reliable replacement warhead issue requires our nation to have a full and clear discussion of what our nuclear doctrine is. During the Cold War, Americans knew precisely whom our nuclear stockpile was intended to deter. We had a clear vision of the circumstances under which the stockpile was likely to be used and the consequences of such use.
Today, we lack that clear vision. Establishing that vision seems essential to achieving a political consensus that will support a reliable replacement warhead program. In replacing Cold War weapons with new ones, even if their military characteristics are the same, it is very important for us to be clear about their intended use. What are our present threats these weapons would deter and what future threat might they deter?
Additionally, the international dialogue needs to be free of bullying, posturing and threats because such behavior does not lead to the understanding and trust required for verifiable arms control agreements. We need to offer a return to treaty regimes (e.g., the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) that are conducive to mutual trust.
At the end of the day, nuclear weapons are presidential weapons reserved for dealing with existential threats to the nation, either by deterrence, or in case of the failure of deterrence, by use. Casual discussion of their use by those not holding these sobering responsibilities is not useful in creating the clarity and understanding that this subject demands.Jay Davis is a retired nuclear physicist who spent more than 30 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He was the first director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, having operational responsibility for U.S. arms control inspections. Bill Nebo retired last year after 30 years as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore. They have had a 20-year long discussion on these issues.
LANL Settlement Objection Overruled
By John Arnold, ABQ Journal, Santa Fe Edition, Friday, March 30, 2007
A federal judge has overruled a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee's objections to a $12 million class action lawsuit settlement. The ruling, handed down this week by District Judge William Johnson, could clear the way for final approval of the settlement, which was negotiated after several women sued the lab alleging years of racial and gender discrimination. A final approval hearing was originally scheduled for last October, but legal objections delayed it.
Johnson is waiting on a panel of arbitrators to determine what attorneys' fees will be before rescheduling the hearing, lawyers in the case said Thursday. Checks could be mailed out "by late summer or early fall, if all goes smoothly," said John Bienvenu, a lawyer representing workers in the case. More than 7,700 current and former employees may be eligible for payouts, which would range from $200 to $9,200 for class members. Five women who initiated the suit would receive $122,000 each under terms of the agreement.
LANL worker Laurie Quon formally objected to the settlement, arguing that the women who initiated the lawsuit would receive excessive payouts. She also contends that the agreement, which releases the lab from future discrimination claims, is too broad and that proposed attorneys fees are excessive. Johnson overruled those objections, noting that employees who aren't satisfied with the settlement can opt out and pursue their own cases. Quon's attorney, George Geran, said Thursday that he may appeal Johnson's ruling to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Settlement payouts could be delayed "indefinitely," pending the outcome of an appeal, Bienvenu said. Six female LANL employees (one of whom has since opted out of the settlement) filed separate discrimination lawsuits against former lab manager the University of California in 2003 and 2004. The suits, which allege pay and promotions disparities stemming from years of gender and racial discrimination, were merged into a single class-action case, and the parties announced a settlement agreement last May. So far, 3,100 employees have filed claims, while 129 have opted out of the settlement, Bienvenu said.
Accident info must be shared
Suppressing details of reactor mishaps imperils workers, facilities
by Kyoichi Sasazawa, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer (Mar. 30, 2007)
Following the revelation of a criticality accident at Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s Shika nuclear power station in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture, it was brought to light recently that a criticality accident likely occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in November 1978.
The accident at the TEPCO plant occurred when control rods became dislodged, but the accident did not have any effect outside the plant, as was the case with similar control rod problems at other nuclear power plants.
Japan is the only country where two criticality accidents have been reported since the 1970s, when nuclear power generation was put into commercial use. Why were these extraordinary accidents covered up for such a long time?
In addition to the two accidents in Japan that recently came to light, 60 criticality accidents have occurred here and in eight other countries, killing 21 people, according to a report by Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States
. These 21 victims include two who were killed in the criticality accident at JCO Co.'s nuclear fuel plant in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, in September 1999.
In one case, a criticality accident lasted for 37 hours. Why did a criticality accident last for so long at a light water reactor that was supposed to be very safe?
...Past criticality accidents include many that happened at nuclear development facilities such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, both in the United States, where secrecy is paramount.
Even these organizations have disclosed details of accidents to prevent recurrence, ensure safety for workers and share information with others, according to a report from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
At a news conference last Thursday, TEPCO stressed its response to the accident was appropriate. "There was no institutional obligation to report such an accident at that time," an official said. But there remains a problem from the perspective of engineering ethics on sharing information on accidents with others.
According to a report by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, accidents and problems at Japan's nuclear power plants, which are supposed to be reported to the government, total about 30 a year. As many as 200 minor accidents that are not required to be reported occur each year--about 10 percent of the figure recorded in the United States.
"Regulation was different than it is today," said Prof. Kazuo Furuta of Tokyo University's graduate school, an expert in system quantum engineering. "They thought they were performing their jobs without problem, but actually they might have made a mistake inadvertently. We must consider the issue by stepping into the mind-set of engineers in those days."
Hello Pat- Could you make this a top level post? This DOE 'request' could spell out the premature END of LANLs pension plans... Maybe a nip can spur the sheep into action...
Request for Public Comment on Department of Energy Contractor Employee Pension and Medical Benefits Challenge
Click on title for link.]
The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comments and/or recommendations on how to address the challenge it faces due to increasing costs and liabilities associated with contractor employee pension and medical benefits. Under the Department’s unique Management and Operating (M&O) and other site management contracts, DOE reimburses its contractors for allowable costs incurred in providing employee pension and medical benefits to current employees and retirees who are eligible to participate in the contractors’ pension and medical benefit plans.
How to Submit Comments:
Please submit your comments via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments due by COB, Friday, May 11, 2007.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Audit questions job shifts at labs
Pat, a little update on Nanos...
Livermore has largest share of dubious costs
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER, Inside Bay Area, 03/29/2007
A scientist from Lawrence Livermore Lab went to work in a French research facility, as a U.S. liaison. That was back in 1998, yet the scientist is still collecting salary and "dislocation allowances" of about $300,000 a year for housing, furniture rental, private school for his daughter and, in the past, foreign language lessons for his wife. So far the total bill is more than $2.7 million, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Energy Department's inspector general.
Winning an off-site assignment from the nation's nuclear weapons labs can be a career plum, a brief but valuable chance to work inside the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security or the CIA.
But one of the secrets inside the labs is that reassignments elsewhere also can offer a handy way of finessing senior management problems, such as an incompetent manager or one angered at being passed over for a promotion.
Either way, the practice of reassignments is largely unregulated inside the Department of Energy, and while auditors found it hasn't resulted in dubious or wasteful spending at basic science labs such as Lawrence Berkeley Lab, they found millions of dollars in questionable expenses for reassignments from the nation's three nuclear weapons labs.
Overall, in 2004 and 2005 the inspector general found $11.3 million in weapons lab reassignments that "were either too long, resulted in excess costs, or were not appropriately cost-shared with host entities."
At Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico, the University of California in years past has provided lab-salaried scientists as staff to Sen. Pete Domenici, the top Republican on a key appropriations committee holding purse strings on nuclear weapons work. More recently, the university has resolved problems with unpopular lab managers by finding them jobs at the Defense Department while still paying them Los Alamos salaries and entitlement to UC's richly funded pension plan.
That was the case with retired Vice Adm.
G. Pete Nanos, who left Los Alamos after a tumultuous period as director in which he derided staff as "buttheads." The university secured a job for Nanos planning strategy for scientific research at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and paid him a Los Alamos salary of $289,000. When an internal audit questioned the payment, the university itself took over Nanos' salary, now at $235,000.
"He has knowledge of Los Alamos and knowledge of (the Defense Department) and he's been able to apply that at DTRA," university spokesman Chris Harrington said. "Being able at times to present the perspective of the laboratory, having a liaison at times, is valuable for the laboratory."
Of the three bomb labs, Livermore Lab had the largest share of questionable expenses noted by the inspector general more than $5 million for 2004 and 2005.
Auditors found the lab's payment of 100 percent of the $3.7 million costs for four employee reassignments "especially troubling" because the reasons for the assignments were not documented and because lab officials acknowledged other agencies were getting some benefit and should have been charged.
"We use these because we really feel there are benefits to the laboratory and the agency that the employee is being transferred to," lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said. "We agree we can improve our documentation."
Auditors also found that in several cases Livermore employees were kept on assignment for the more than the maximum of four years and that the lab had no plans on file to take the employees back.
In one case auditors found a Livermore scientist took a six-month assignment and still hasn't come back after 15 years and $1.2 million in lab expenses.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
DOE Has Its Evil Eye On You, John
(Click image to enlarge)
| || |
March 22, 2007
“New” LANL Management Can’t Get a Grip
on Cyber-Security Issues
| || |
| || || || |
| || For Immediate Release|
Contact: Jennifer Porter Gore email@example.com or Peter Stockton (202) 347-1122
WASHINGTON —The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has received copies of an internal assessment of the Los Alamos National Laboratory showing that six months into its tenure the lab’s new management had no cyber security protection plan.
The new management is a consortium led by University of California and Bechtel. The University alone managed the lab for 60 years—until a series of cyber-security lapses and breaches forced a re-bid of the original management contract. However, the internal assessment of the lab’s Cyber Security Program conducted in November 2006 reveals crucial management problems. These problems include lack of a clear cyber-security policy and a program plan that still hadn’t been finalized.
Two sections of the lab’s draft master cyber-security plan titled “Bull in a China Shop” and “Flatheaded” are cited as “derogatory statements regarding the new LANS [Los Alamos National Security] management structure and its likely impacts on cyber security at LANL.” These sections were drafted by the lab’s Information System Security Officers.
In addition to not having a site-wide plan, the lab is reported to lack “rudimentary components” of a cyber security program including standardized periodic training, a site-wide cyber security manual, and an overarching policy for the lab’s cyber-security, noting “limited procedural documentation was available.”
The assessment involved representatives from several nuclear weapons facilities and was conducted in mid-November—weeks after a major cyber-security breach that led to more than 1,000 pages of highly classified documents from the lab being discovered in a trailer during a methamphetamine lab drug bust.
POGO’s investigations have found seven cyber-security breaches at LANL since 2002 (see http://pogo.org/p/homeland/ha-061003-lanl.html ). These breaches include a 2004 report of the loss of computer disks containing classified information and the mishandling of classified emails. Those events prompted LANL Director Pete Nanos to suspend all work activities for the Lab in July 2004 for several months, at a cost of at least $370 million.
“LANL seems to have the same never-ending problems,” said POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian. “Time after time the lab has promised to strengthen its cyber-security program, including finding better ways to secure classified removable media, but little gets done. I hope it doesn’t take another security breach to spur lab officials to real action, but I’m afraid it will.”
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Letter to Pat from John Pedicini
From my reputation, you probably know that you and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet we share many of the same goals. I, for one, appreciate the effort that you have put into the blog, even though I do not agree with some of your posts. This is exactly what freedom of speech is about. I was sorry to see the announcement of the closing on April 1, but can understand your reasons. Again my thanks for your efforts. If my request to hold the blog open until at least September would make a difference, please consider this a request. You may quote the request with my name attached. By that time, we should know whether the decision to remain at LANL should be on the grounds of personal issues or the chance to make a difference for the nation. You may quote this paragraph in its entirety and attribute it to me.
John M. Pedicini
The closing date of April 1st is firm, but there are others who have signaled the desire to carry on. Doug and I will discuss -- offline, for the first time, probably by land line, maybe even over a beer (he'll probably be surprised to learn my identity) -- just how to do this in the smoothest way possible, with candidates who come forward with a credible
level of commitment. As to the two future posts you mention, "on the goings on in RRW and my future plans," I can guarantee you that they will appear, either on this very blog before April 1st, or on whatever follow-on that materializes after April 1st. That will be part of the "commitment" bargain with the new blogmeister.
As to our political differences, I doubt they are as far apart as you claim. A dedication to the long-term survival of the finest characteristics of humanity is the essence of conservatism, and I am that kind of conservative. So are you. Living well and letting others do so, as long as they don't impinge upon my living well, is the essence of liberalism (or at least libertarianism, if you prefer that word), and I am that kind of liberal (or libertarian). So, I believe, are you.
Thanks to you for your contributions to the nation's security and to the people at LANL through the medium of this blog.
--Pat, the Dog
P.S. As a scientist, as well as a conservationist, let me add one more comment on the definition of "conservative": When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words in the Declaration of Independence over 230 years ago, "
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness", no one, not even a scientifically educated man like Jefferson, had an inkling of the subsequent discovery of the laws of natural selection, general relativity, or quantum mechanics. He and the intellectuals of his Enlightened day had only the barest notions about the vastness of the beautiful, terrifying, and strange Cosmos we find ourselves in, nor of the even stranger tiny quantum universe of atoms, nor of the complex richness of the chemistry inside a living cell -- a universe in itself. So it is no wonder that when Jefferson spoke of "Life," it was
human life that he had in mind. But now we know that "life" on our Blue Planet Earth is a complex, interconnected web of plants, animals, and bacteria, from which the lives of human beings cannot be separated, and which we may be seriously perturbing by our human activities. Life is a rare thing in our Universe -- our Blue Planet is a lonely speck, and we may never, as a species make contact with any other life forms -- and that makes the preservation of life on our planet a
moral imperative. Science has brought our understanding of life to an unprecedented height, and at the same time, brought all life, including us, closer to extinction, especially with the invention of nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer's last unfinished hope was that nuclear weapons would never, ever be used again on the face of this planet. The RRW, properly realized, could facilitate the elimination of nuclear weapons, and this, along with the struggle to contain the lethality of human-caused global warming, constitute the moral imperative of saving all life on this Earth. Those who dedicate their lives to saving the biosphere are, in my mind, the Ultimate Conservatives.
On March 2, the Energy Department made the announcement that the nuclear weapons labs have long anticipated and arms control advocates have long dreaded: It selected a design for the first new nuclear warhead in two decades--a so-called reliable replacement warhead (RRW). Although Congress has not yet approved production of the warhead, Energy's announcement takes the RRW past a significant hurdle, into the final step of the design process (if Congress appropriates the $119 million necessary for this), and in the direction of production and deployment.
In 2006, Congress authorized the two nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) to develop competing designs for an RRW that might replace the most common warhead in the current stockpile--the W76. This is the warhead that sits atop most U.S. submarine-based missiles. Congress stipulated that the RRW design should be safer and more reliable than the existing W76 design, that it should not confer new military capabilities, and that it should not require nuclear testing in order to be certified.
The existing stockpile, of Cold War vintage, was designed to squeeze the most explosive yield possible out of the smallest amount of plutonium. These warheads, instead of being built to last, were designed right up against the edge of viability on the assumption that they would be retired after a few years and replaced with newer designs. Congressional advocates of the RRW, such as Ohio Republican Rep. David Hobson, have seen it as a program to replace temperamental nuclear Porsches with reliable Honda Civics in the hope that future administrations would be bolder in cutting the stockpile if they had more confidence in each warhead's reliability.
Energy announced that it selected the Livermore design for the RRW because it had "a very robust test pedigree," according to Tom D'Agostino, the acting head of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. While the Los Alamos design was more adventurous, the Livermore design involved tweaking a warhead (never deployed) that Livermore tested in 1980. Of the two designs, it best satisfied the Congressional requirement that the RRW not require nuclear testing. The RRW will also incorporate new protective features that make it, if Gen. James Cartwright of STRATCOM is to be believed, as useless "as a paperweight" if it falls into terrorist hands.
It would be easy to assume that the weapons labs and the navy are united in wanting the new warhead, but the truth is more complicated. Many older weapons designers have been lukewarm about the RRW, which has been more strongly supported by a younger generation of weapons designers who were just hitting their stride when the testing moratorium of the 1990s slammed the door in their faces. The media have quoted Bruce Tarter, the former director of Livermore, and the legendary retired designer Seymour Sack (whose design is the basis for the RRW) as being skeptical about the need for a new warhead.
The warhead has also been opposed by two of the three newspapers in the Livermore Valley. And the navy, which has had a legendary blood feud with Livermore for at least two decades, was always ambivalent about spending the money a new warhead will cost. Now that Livermore has won the design contest, the navy's limited enthusiasm for this project can be expected to ebb still further. Also, judging by comments on the entertaining Los Alamos blog, there are Los Alamos scientists determined that the Livermore RRW will die at birth.
An interesting political struggle looms on the horizon as Congress moves toward hearings on the RRW. In this struggle, New Mexico and California politicians, who pay close attention to the weapons labs, are on both sides of the issue--though all claim to speak in the name of arms reductions. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and New Mexico Democratic Rep. Tom Udall have criticized the RRW, while New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and the representative from Livermore's district, Democrat Ellen Tauscher, have lined up behind it (the latter suggesting a bargain whereby the United States builds the RRW while, finally, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).
In the debate on the RRW, such as it has been, opponents have mainly focused on two issues: the reliability of the existing stockpile and the danger that an RRW will stimulate nuclear proliferation. Many RRW opponents in nongovernmental organizations have cited a 2006 report by the JASON committee of experts, which concluded that the plutonium cores of existing warheads will be reliable for at least 85 years. If it ain't broke, they say, don't fix it--especially if the fix might provoke other countries. Thus, the New York Times has editorialized that the RRW is "a public relations disaster in the making overseas," while Feinstein has said the mass production of a new warhead, at a time when the United States is trying to isolate North Korea and Iran for their nuclear initiatives, would appear hypocritical and "could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent."
These are good arguments, but still something important has been missing from the debate. It is my own feeling that, if given the choice of waving a wand and changing all the current W76s into RRWs, one would do so because the RRW is a safer warhead whose design is less likely to trigger neurotic doubts about reliability among the men and women in white lab coats who can bring the test ban regime crashing down if they tell the president that they have lost confidence in the reliability of the stockpile. But changing the W76s into RRWs cannot be done by the swish and flick of a wand. Given that the United States currently has the capability to produce about a dozen new pits each year and that we are talking about replacing all the W76s--and eventually, the entire nuclear stockpile, after future RRW design exercises--it can only be done by expanding the U.S. plutonium pit production capability and, presumably, by building the new Consolidated Plutonium Facility Energy seeks as part of its $150 billion Complex 2030 initiative.
We need, then, to debate Complex 2030 and the RRW as two sides of the same coin and to ask whether we want to go back to being a country that mass produces nuclear weapons with all the political, environmental, and health costs that entails. Ten years after the test ban treaty was signed, at a time when the U.S. and Russian stockpiles are shrinking, at a moment when the U.S. budget deficit arcs deeper into the red each year, in a year when the Iraq War is adding $100 billion to the $450 billion defense budget, we need to ask whether we want to restore the relevance of nuclear weapons by devoting this much of our treasure to their refurbishment.
The real question is not so much what the RRW might mean to others, but what nuclear weapons mean to us now.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
From land, water, and other resources, to media and the broadcast and digital spectra, to scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs, a broad range of America's public resources have been undergoing a powerful shift toward elite control, contributing substantially to those economic pressures on ordinary Americans that deeply affect household stability, family dynamics, social mobility, political participation and civic life.
What's to be done?
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
The only answer to organized money is organized people.
The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."
-Bill Moyers, an address to students at Occidental College, entitled "A Time for Anger, a Call to Action."
Does this strike home to those of you who are NOT part of LANL's new "Power Elite"?
Think, before you answer.
--Pat, the Dog
PS: A herd does not qualify as "organized people"...
Blood in the Bathtub: A Better LLNL RRW?
Is new H-bomb design better?Debate rages over bathtub shape
--Ian Hoffman, Staff Writer, Inside Bay Area, 03/25/2007
For Gen. James Cartwright, the military commander over U.S. nuclear forces, the first hydrogen bomb to come out of an American nuclear design lab in 20 years doesn't look very new.
The warhead is launched by the same submarines on the same missiles at the same targets and produces the same blast as the warhead it replaces.
"This is far from being a new warhead because it still has the same form, fit and function as the existing warhead," agrees Steve Henry, deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear affairs.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein figures by putting more sophisticated warheads on the same missile "you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon."
Weapons experts themselves are sharply divided.
In designing a hardier replacement for the warhead atop the Navy's Trident missiles, Lawrence Livermore Lab scientists poured more muscle and a few added features into an early 1980s-vintage warhead.
The new/not-new distinction is more than semantic: A truly new bomb probably would need explosive testing, something U.S. presidents have forsworn since 1992, partly to block other nations from testing new designs.
What everyone can agree on is that Livermore's latest bomb the first in a planned series of "reliable, replacement warheads," or RRWs never has been manufactured. That means it is vulnerable to the kinds of flaws and breakdowns that afflict every complex object, from trains to automobiles to computers and even living things. The same is true for newly made nuclear bombs, with thousands of parts.
"What you know from bringing in these bright, new, shining systems is they can bring in all these new defects," said Raymond Jeanloz, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who sits on several advisory committees on nuclear weapons matters. "The nature of the glitches have always been very small, detailed things. These are very sophisticated systems, and it's just really hard to be sure that every detail has been shaken down. That doesn't necessarily mean it will have to be the same in the future, but in the past, really diligent people were part of the design and development cycles, and there were glitches."
Scientists, engineers, factory workers and nature itself build unforeseen flaws into the things they make. That's why products are recalled, women miscarry and consumers repair a larger universe of unacknowledged mistakes in the things they buy. It's why Windows users still are downloading security fixes and "updates" after the nth service pack.
On the other side of the equation from these "birth defects" is aging. In time, more and more critical parts break down in any organism or product until it reaches the end of its service life or dies.
Engineers depict these facts of birth, life and death as a curve that looks like a bathtub. After a number of early design- and manufacturing-related failures, the surviving units stumble through a smaller, constant number of random defects and then begin to fail in larger and larger numbers as age takes its toll.
It is tempting to think the most horrendously lethal weapons ever devised by humanity are immune to these facts of engineering and manufacture. They're not.
Numerous studies have found the weapons to be remarkably defect-free, especially as scientists learned to seal moisture out of the most sensitive components. But flaws have been found and when deemed necessary, fixed in every kind of bomb and warhead in the current U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to a 1995 study by scientists at all three U.S. nuclear weapons design labs.
That study suggested the wholesale failure of one or more bombs or warheads could come somewhere around the 28th year after a weapon is manufactured.
The deadly right-hand side of the bathtub curve, in other words, was imminent.
Yet subsequent studies showed that conclusion was statistically infirm, based on too small of a sample of examined weapons. Twelve years later, with many weapons aging past that mark and an average arsenal age of about 23 years, weapons scientists acknowledge there is no evidence yet for an age-related meltdown. It is partly fear of such a meltdown that has driven a plan by the weapons labs and the Bush administration to design replacements for every U.S. nuclear explosive.
"What is true is I think there has not been an upturn in the frequency of age-related findings that would create a sense of dramatic urgency in the sense we need to do something in the next year or two years or three years," said former Lawrence Livermore director Bruce Tarter, chairman of a committee studying the replacement warhead program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
U.S. nuclear bombs and warheads then rest somewhere in the stable bottom of the bathtub, past most of their birth defects and adolescence.
"I don't know where the right side of the bathtub shows up, but it is measured in hundreds of years," said Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratories weapons executive.
A newly manufactured bomb such as Livermore's latest will slip into the bathtub at the left side, before possible defects in design and manufacture are discovered. The lab's RRW-1 is based heavily on a well-tested warhead from the early 1980s but will never be tested in its final manufactured state, and the probability of defects is unclear.
Livermore designers say they learn from mistakes, just as any automaker does.
"Just like Toyota, you have many fewer birth defects today than on a Toyota that you bought in 1985," said designer Bruce Goodwin, head of the lab's weapons program. "But at the end of the day a lot of the lessons learned from the last 25 years come down to simplicity of design. If you could look at RRW, you'd see many fewer parts, you'll see things that come together simply and come apart simply."
If the lab's designers make mistakes that, as in the current arsenal, don't show up for a decade or two, the RRW-1 is designed so that its first explosive stage produces at least four times the energy necessary to drive the rest of the bomb.
"You do have a very, very large margin in the system and so you can absorb defects, you can absorb insults or things that make it work less well," Goodwin said.
Without the proof of a nuclear test, skeptics such as Peurifoy aren't convinced.
"When you do something new, it's the left side of the bathtub, and if you look at automobiles, flashlight batteries, I don't care, you'll find that statistically, you make mistakes that you only discover after you put something into inventory," he said. "I go with the tried and true. I go with the stockpile that has been surveilled and maintained and, when necessary, fixed, and that's what we have today."
Many reasons to support nuclear waste recycling
By Donald J. Dudziak
Santa Fe New Mexican, Opinions, Sunday 25 March 2007
If the Bush administration and Congress want to focus energy policies more sensibly, New Mexico is the place to begin.
Thirty years ago, President Jimmy Carter put a halt to the recycling of spent fuel from nuclear power plants, on grounds that plutonium removed during the process might get into the hands of irresponsible governments or terrorists and lead to production of a nuclear weapon. Although President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban on recycling, and other countries like France and Great Britain never stopped using the process, it was not resurrected in this country because recycling was considered too costly.
Now that could change, given the growing importance of nuclear power in the battle against global climate change. In the United States, 17 utilities are preparing to build as many as 33 nuclear power plants. And here in New Mexico, a new uranium enrichment facility is under construction, and one or more nuclear power plants might be built.
Worldwide, the number of nuclear plants is expected to double, with at least 1,000 operating by midcentury, but the likelihood exists there might not be enough uranium.
If the spent reactor fuel now stored at nuclear power plants in the U.S. — some 50,000 tons — were recycled instead of disposed of as nuclear “waste,” it could be converted into new reactor fuel and used again to provide clean electricity. This would help conserve the world’s uranium resources.
Another benefit from recycling is that it significantly reduces the volume, heat and toxicity of nuclear “waste,” in effect more than doubling the capacity of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. It means that Congress would not have to decide on a second or a third site for additional repositories after the first one is built.
The Department of Energy plans to spend $250 million to demonstrate and deploy technologies for recycling, along with advanced “fast” reactors that can burn the recycled spent fuel. DOE’s goal is to stimulate the use of nuclear power around the world, by assuring an ample supply of nuclear fuel, while limiting the risk of weapons proliferation.
Known as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, the DOE plan is to build and operate three facilities in the United States: One for recycling spent fuel and fabricating a mixed-oxide fuel for use in nuclear power plants to produce more electricity. Another facility would be an advanced fast reactor, which would destroy long-lived radioactive elements, while producing power. And a research facility would be used to develop new recycling processes and other advanced nuclear technologies.
So far, 11 sites around the country — including Hobbs and Roswell in New Mexico — have received DOE grants to conduct studies in order to determine whether they’d be suitable as locations for either the nuclear recycling center or the advanced reactor. Over the long term, the facilities are expected to require a capital investment of at least $16 billion and bring in 8,000 jobs.
The cost of developing new recycling technology would be stretched out over many years, so it will require an assurance of long-term, predictable funding for research, development and demonstration, involving universities and national laboratories.
No question about it, the idea of recycling is ambitious. It will entail perfecting a new technology for recycling, one that reduces the risk of weapons proliferation and is affordable. Also, a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors will need to be built. As we’ve learned well over the past 30 years, the absence of recycling and the unnecessary delays in opening the Yucca Mountain repository have placed nuclear power plants in the position of storing more spent fuel than expected, for longer than originally intended.
We need to move forward with GNEP now. Otherwise, we could seriously limit the ability of nuclear power to provide the essentially emission-free energy that the world urgently needs.
Donald J. Dudziak, Ph.D., P.E., is a fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a department head and professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University.