Wednesday, December 13, 2006

 

APS News: LANS takeover of LANL

New Management Tackles Difficult Problems at Los Alamos
By Ernie Tretkoff

Several months after new management took over at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the lab continues to struggle with security and budget problems and low employee morale.

Until last year, the lab had been managed by the University of California. Following a series of security and safety problems that led to a total shutdown of the lab, the Department of Energy put the management contract out to bid. Last December the DOE selected Los Alamos National Security (LANS) as the new contractor. LANS, a collaboration of the University of California, Bechtel National, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International, beat out the University of Texas/Lockheed Martin collaboration for the contract. The new management took over in June.

The new director, nuclear physicist Michael Anastasio, came to LANL from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he had been the director since 2002.

In a recent security incident, classified data were found in the home of a former subcontractor during a drug raid by local police. In addition to drug paraphernalia, police found computer memory sticks containing classified documents from the lab, as well as hard copies of classified documents. The documents had apparently been taken from the lab by a woman who had worked as an archivist transferring paper documents to electronic form and indexing them. Lab officials have declined to comment on the details of the ongoing investigation in this incident.

In an interview with APS News shortly before this incident occurred, Anastasio said that he felt the lab was moving in the right direction. “We’re very pleased with how things are moving forward,” he said. “We’ve made some significant strides in safety and security.”  Anastasio said that his message to employees on safety and security has been to emphasize personal responsibility. He said he believes this approach has been successful. “If you look at our statistics, albeit for four months, the trends are all very positive,” he said.

After the drug raid, Anastasio said in a statement, “this is a serious matter, and we are taking immediate steps to address it.”

Susan Seestrom, Associate Director for Experimental Physics at LANL, said that security had been given increased emphasis under the new management. Many small improvements have been made, some of which started before the new management took over, she said. For instance, the lab has been working to get rid of removable media such as thumb drives, she said. “We’re trying to put in things that lessen potential for human error. We’ve seen a downturn in the most serious security incidents,” she told APS News shortly after this recent incident. Seestrom is chair of the APS Division of Nuclear Physics.

However, not all employees have noticed significant change. Brad Holian, a physicist who retired from the lab, but still works there part-time, said he hadn’t noticed any major changes in the approach to security under the new management, but he did believe Anastasio would handle the incident better than previous management.  “Anastasio seems to be a more reasonable and calm individual,” said Holian. He points out that Los Alamos’ record of safety and security has been similar to that of Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Labs, but that Los Alamos has received much more publicity.

Although security has been the dominant issue in recent weeks, the new management has faced several other problems as well.
Employee morale had been low leading up to the change in management, due in part to uncertainty about practical matters such as employee benefits, as well as concern over whether the new management would be supportive of science.

Anastasio said that it will take time for the new management to earn the employees’ confidence, but that said he believes morale has been improving as some of the concerns over practical matters have died down.  “I believe communication is really key for the employees. When there’s a lack of information, that generates a lot of anxiety,” he added.

Seestrom also saw some improvement in employee morale, though she admitted it was spotty.  “Where people are really making progress in their technical work, their morale is pretty good. I see a lot of energy in the scientific workplace,” said Seestrom.

Holian was less upbeat. “I would say that there’s still a sense of demoralization and uncertainty on the part of the staff,” he said. Holian has spoken up before against some management decisions and some decisions imposed by Congress and the DOE, but says he is not critical of the lab’s scientific staff.

Another physicist who has worked at Los Alamos for many years, who spoke with APS News on the condition of anonymity, said he hadn’t noticed any significant change under the new management. “The one thing I have seen is that there are more managers. The research environment is about the same,” he said. Bureaucratic hassles, including large amounts of paperwork and time-consuming but irrelevant training, continue to make it difficult to do research, he said.

Several other scientists contacted by APS News either did not return requests for comment or declined to comment on the record.
Another issue the new management has had to deal with is new expenses. While Congress is expected to keep the budget for LANL approximately flat, new expenses including taxes, management fees, salary increases, and retirement benefits have led to a budget shortfall of about $175 million.

Anastasio said he will deal with the issue through efficiencies, and by reducing the contract workforce. Fees for the lab’s customers will not increase, and there will be no cuts among the regular laboratory staff, though some projects might have to be scaled back, he said.  Seestrom said she believed the budget crunch would force the lab to be more efficient.

High overhead costs had already been making it difficult for scientists to obtain outside funding for their research, said the scientist who requested anonymity. “My hopes when the new management came in were high. I thought they would lower overhead and make us more efficient.  Unfortunately I haven’t seen any evidence of that to date.” Some scientists at the lab have worried that the new management company might not be as supportive of science as they would like, or that Congress or the DOE would push the lab towards more weapons manufacturing at the expense of basic research.

Both Anastasio and Seestrom emphasized that the management supports science. “I see really strong support from management for science in the lab,” Seestrom said.

Some employees are uncertain. “They say golden words. Anastasio honestly hopes to promote science,” said Holian. However, Holian and other scientists worry that with the current budget situation and a lack of support for science in Congress, the lab management may not be able to promote science.

Seestrom says that the weapons program helps generates good science. “There’s a very strong manufacturing component to what we’re doing at the lab,” she said. “That enterprise supports a lot of basic materials science for our laboratory. We develop new processes for them, and so that keeps us being at the forefront of that part of materials science.”

Anastasio believes that in the future the lab will continue its mission, which includes not just nuclear weapons, but national security in a broader sense.  “I see the laboratory to be a great national security science laboratory. That’s my vision. Clearly it encompasses our traditional core mission which is sustaining the US nuclear deterrent. But it also means missions we have in nonproliferation and countering terrorism,” he said. “In the future, I think it will mean national security in the sense of economic security, and the interrelationship with energy and the environment and the economic health of the country.”

Recruiting scientists to the lab has always been difficult, in part because of its isolated location. “This important mission, as well as the great scientific staff and facilities, can help attract the best scientists to work at the lab,” says Anastasio.  “We can work on national scale issues that can affect the whole country. So having a really important mission and challenge to work on is a strong attractor.”

The physicist who preferred not to be named also said that a dedication to the lab’s mission attracted scientists to the lab.  “People I work with have a strong commitment to doing work that matters to the country. They believe in what we’re doing and why we’re here,” he said. However, he added, “If I were a young person I would not seriously consider coming here. It’s a different place than it was a decade ago.”

Holian said that despite problems, there are still pockets of quality at the lab. “People do carry on good work in spite of the trouble,” he said.

©1995 - 2006, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY

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In the sweepstakes for number of quotes, it looks like Holian and the "anonymous" physicist (or the one who "preferred not to be named") lose out to LANS's Anastasio and Seestrom. In the dog world, however, last one to lift his leg wins...
--Pat, The Dog

Comments:
I remember Sue Seestrom. She was the line manager directly responsible for the scapegoating of Todd Kauppila over the (oops, it didn't really happen) missing (well, they never actually existed) classified disk episode that former director Nanos used to 'justify' shutting the entire place down in 2004. The shutdown which was directly responsible for LANS becoming the current LANL contractor.

Glad to see that Sue has been nicely taken care of by the new management team. She should go far in the new LANS corporation.
 
My deputy division leader told our group that morale is generally good. My deputy division leader is full of shit.
 
Employees are losing what little security they may have had in the wake of two decades of UC mismanagement and related fiascos. So how does it improve morale when policies are being covertly changed to water down worker protections, and an already weak complaint resolutions process is being made even weaker by a new, more arrogant LANL leadership?

The following UPTE newsbulletin provides a glimpse into the reality that is unfolding quietly, behind the scenes at LANL.


UPTE-CWA LANL Bulletin, December 2006

§ LANS Moves to Limit Employee Representation
§ Layoff of Contractors
§ Pension Protections Thanks to UPTE-CWA
§ Salary Date Now Secret
§ Lawrence Livermore Organizing
§ Join UPTE-CWA Today!
§ UPTE-CWA Open Forum

LANS Moves to Limit Employee Representation
UPTE-CWA stewards have successfully represented many lab employees, including saving peoples’ jobs and getting well-deserved raises. Because LANS (Los Alamos National Security) is no longer a public employer, it is no longer covered by the public labor law that gave employees the right to union representation. LANS has decided to change this policy, even though it previously committed to making no substantive changes.

Currently, LANS is only allowing an employee’s “peers” as representatives. LANS wants to define “peer” very narrowly. UPTE-CWA believes we should have the very basic right to representation, and will continue to pressure LANS to consider any other LANS employee as a “peer.”

In the mean time, we will continue to counsel individuals through workplace issues. We will meet with you and give you advice, and then be a phone call or conference room away when you meet with management so that you are still supported. We will continue our policy to represent only current UPTE-CWA members, so we encourage you to join.

Layoff of Contractors
While legislative pressure from UPTE-CWA helped guarantee a one-year moratorium on layoffs for former UC employees, about 500 contractors are being laid off and hundreds more will not be replaced. Just last week, KSL laid off 50 skilled trades employees. The layoffs would not have been necessary if the lab had remained public because the budget shortfalls are due to taxes and management fees that were not previously foreseen. We will have to remain vigilant about additional changes that were not planned or previously announced. Now that LANS has the contract, it will seek to change the terms to make them more favorable for its owners, and most importantly, Bechtel. Please contact UPTE-CWA if you know of any other changes that we should address.

Pension Protections Thanks to UPTE-CWA
During the transition, UPTE-CWA members pressured UC managers and federal legislators to add the words “substantially equivalent” into the requirements for the benefits plans to be offered by the new contractor. For this reason, LANS set up TCP1 to allow UC employees to continue with a real pension plan, rather than only a 401k-style plan with much less value.

At this time all LANS employees also have the same retiree health benefits as UC employees. We do not know if LANS plans to change this benefit or not. UPTE-CWA will seek to protect these benefits for future and current employees.

Salary Data Now Secret
LANS is using the cover of being a private company to no longer release employee salary data, claiming this is proprietary information. The availability of salary data allows us to hold management more accountable when it has unfair pay policies. Making the data secret allows LANS to give whatever bonuses and raises to management, or provide even discriminatory raises in departments, without anyone being able to check.

Because the resources continue to come from taxpayers, UPTE-CWA believes that salary information should remain available to the public. We will work with legislators and others to push for transparency in LANS’ pay practices.

Lawrence Livermore Organizing
Motivated by the negative changes for Los Alamos employees, UPTE-CWA members at Lawrence Livermore have begun to sign cards to achieve exclusive bargaining rights. We encourage you to speak with any of your acquaintances at Lawrence Livermore, and tell them they need the protection of union to avoid what has happened at Los Alamos.

Join UPTE-CWA Today!
Working together we have a stronger voice to improve our working conditions. Sign up for payroll deduction today to help build a more effective union at Los Alamos.

UPTE-CWA Open Forum
Questions or just want to find out more? Come to our monthly public meeting at the Mesa Public Library on the 3rd Thursday. That is December 21 this month. We meet at 5:15 PM. All employees are welcome -- bring your friends.

This electronic bulletin is prepared by UPTE-CWA Los Alamos leaders. We appreciate any feedback at lanl@upte-cwa.org.
If you do not wish to receive these bulk emails, please send a request to info@upte-cwa.org
 
LANS is going to manage itself into having a union.
 
Why does the press focus on the cost increase from the management fee and the gross receipts tax, and ignores the major cost increase due to the addition of many managers at the division and AD level. Each new manager has a deputy, 2 admins, a chief of staff, a budget person and sometimes a safety/security person and project manager. By my estimate, this is roughly $36M extra, that LANS had full control over. Where are the senators, watchdogs, etc., when you need them?
 
Pat, I suggest a "name the junction contest." My entry is "Bodman's colon."

BTW, you need a mechanism to email you off topic, like this one.
 
You want to cut overhead? Start with the $8M we give the LA School System every year! We do not get extra money for that, we carve it out of operating and increase the G&A rate to pay for it.
 
I will know that LANS wants to stop retaliation when it removes Sue Seestrom from management or even from the laboratory. Doesn't she want to spend more time with her family like John Mitchell?
The truth is that she is vicious and her main tool is retaliation. One word against anything she does and your life is hell.
 
It is incredible to me that anyone would suggest taking money from the Los Alamos schools on the grounds that it comes out of the lab's budget. ( if it does -- I have never heard that before.)
Giving this pittance to the schools is the least it can do to make up for loading the schools with the children of its thousands of employees and paying no property tax at all.
Really, the 8 million ought to go to the teachers who have to put up with these poor kids parents who are convinced they know everything, including teaching. Then there should be a good 20 million more given to the schools to make up for LANL's impact on the school system.
 
Times are bad at the lab, and by most accounts, it appears they are going to get worse. The future holds out growing fears of layoffs, decreasing benefits, and little or no pay increases. Morale is at low levels I never thought possible. Stress is rampant. The Los Alamos Monitor even ran a story a couple of weeks ago about how the low morale and stress of LANL staff are having a negative effect on kids in the local schools. This week the paper added a "Mental Health" insert which councils people on ways to counter the growing stress in the community.

Don't let the gloomy situation at LANL destroy your life. It's too high a price to pay and LANL doesn't deserve that type of devotion.

For a significant portion of the staff it's now time to look deep inside and ask a tough question: Is it really worth it to work here any longer? For many, the answer is definitely no. If so, then use the time you have remaining at LANL to begin searching for something much better. LANL is not the center of the universe. Most of those who have left seem to look back with great relief that they finally got out. Neither DOE, nor NNSA, nor LANS deserves another minute of your limited time. The only happy faces I've seen of late are of staff who are walking out the front door, never to return. Everyone deserve a bit of happiness. Go get yours.
 
I think we need to differentiate between real cutting of unnecessary expenses, and the shell game management (LANS) is now playing in the name of "cutting overhead". Many people have been transfered off indirect funding, but are doing the same job and are siphoning off direct funding. The metric should be how many people at LANL are doing science and technology. I would bet its a very small fraction
 
llc001 at 12/15/2006 6:20 AM has it right.

Group level managers (GLs and DGLs) are now charging major portions of their time to projects. Of course, that time is spent on overhead activities. This is entirely fraudulent and increases the cost to projects. While this can be nicely hidden in the Weapons Program it cannot be hidden in the bottom line of WFO projects. We are being priced out of many WFO projects where there is competition.

This is a fraudlent practice and the auditors should look into it. Of course, the DOE probably does not want this practice revealed.
 
What do you mean "you never heard of that before" about LANL paying the $8M for the schools? Ask some questions. You might even find out that in the past we pay for some of the airport operations even though we have no commercial service. To quote a famous politician, "a million here and a million there, starts to add up to some money."
 
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