Saturday, December 16, 2006


The Corporatized Lab - Life on the 'Bleeding' Edge

When President Cheney-Bush decided to put out the 'contract' on Los Alamos National Lab, the word was put out into the (corporate) US media that LANL was an unsafe den of thieves and spies (or as the media prefers to phrase it, "there were numerous lapses in security, safety, and business practices"), and that the only way to fix this avalanche of problems at the "failed" Lab would be to bring in a corporate manager to "drain the swamp" more effectively than Director-Admiral Nanos managed to do during his 7-month Shutdown.

Well, after a year now of corporate management - yes, I know, it's only been a half year of official LANS-LLC ownership, but remember that The Transition to Bechtel began a year ago - has the myriad of problems been magically wiped away? Let's see what today's stories in the local newspapers have to say about:



ABQ Journal, Santa Fe Edition
Saturday, December 16, 2006

De-Icer Suspected in Fatal Wreck

By Mark Oswald
Of The Journal

A Los Alamos woman was killed Friday on N.M. 502— the highway between Pojoaque and Los Alamos— when her car apparently slid on a liquid de-icer that had been applied to the road by a state Department of Transportation crew.

"The roadway was slick because of the de-icer," Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano said.

Solano said there were three wrecks on the same part of the highway before the crash that killed Patricia Ann Vigil-Booth, 53.

About 4:45 p.m., her BMW, which was heading toward Los Alamos, slid into a car that had been disabled in one of the previous wrecks as it was being attached to a tow truck. She died at the scene, near a service station at the start of the climb toward Los Alamos, the sheriff said.

Solano said the de-icer had been sprayed on the road in anticipation of a storm. Salt and sand had also been applied to the pavement, the sheriff said.

The weather forecast for the Los Alamos area called for partly cloudy conditions Friday night. Rain, or snow at high elevations, could arrive tonight.

Solano said deputies believe the de-icer caused all four wrecks. "It all seems related," he said.

"I'm saying that whatever they sprayed caused the slippage," Solano said.

Calls to state Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught and a Transportation Department spokesman seeking comment on the crash and more information on the de-icer used on the road were not returned Friday night. Solano said there was no ice or snow on the road where Friday's wrecks took place.

Solano said it was his understanding that, at some point in the afternoon, an e-mail notice was sent to employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory to warn them that the de-icer had been applied "and that the road could be slippery."

He said he didn't know if the warning was sent before or after the wrecks.

LANL spokesman James Rickman said Friday night that, at about 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., an all-employee e-mail was sent by the lab's public affairs office warning LANL workers to use extreme caution driving home because of the de-icer. Rickman didn't know the source of the information for the e-mail or whether the Transportation Department had asked that the warning be issued.

"I've never heard of a liquid de-icer like this," Solano said. "I don't know if this is something new." He said a Transportation Department safety officer sent to the scene gave a deputy the name of the de-icer chemical, but Solano didn't have the name Friday night.

He said the sheriff's department contacted the Transportation Department after the fatal crash and crews started cleanup work because of the slipperiness of the road.

A tow-truck operator from Mino's Towing of Pojoaque who was under a car attaching chains when it was T-boned by Vigil-Booth's BMW suffered facial injuries that were not life threatening, Solano said. The injured man's name was not available Friday night.

Solano said that State Police and the Bureau of Indian Affairs handled two of the other wrecks.

A State Police spokesman said Friday night that the de-icer was a contributing factor in the accident the agency investigated.



In Brief, by The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 16, 2006

Possible Plutonium Incident at LANL

A worker at Los Alamos National Laboratory might have inhaled plutonium after a recent incident at Technical Area 55, where plutonium work is done.

A spring-loaded sample holder shot a small piece of plutonium metal that hit a worker's protective clothing before falling on the floor on Nov. 21, according to a memo from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

An alarm sounded, and the three workers left the room. One had a positive reading from a nasal smear, which indicates "a potential uptake" of the radioactive substance, according to the memo.



Los Alamos Monitor
Saturday, December 16, 2006

Headline News
LANL auditing KSL actions

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor Senior Reporter

The Ethics and Audits Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory is auditing their largest subcontractor - KSL Services.

According to information obtained by the Monitor, the Ethics and Audits Division was notified of possible collusion between immediate past president Mike Bagale and ScottMadden Inc., a management consulting firm brought into KSL during the last 18 months by Bagale.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark confirmed this morning that the lab is looking into procedures at KSL.

"Whenever the lab receives a complaint about any of its contracts, it's our obligation to diligently look into those concerns. However, that does not mean we'll find anything," Roark said. "We are conducting a review of KSL procedures. That review is still ongoing and even when it's done, it may be inappropriate to talk about its results and it is certainly not appropriate to talk about it while it's ongoing."

Current KSL president David E. Whitaker said in an interview Monday that Bagale met a ScottMadden consultant while working at a nuclear power plant in Canada and the two stayed in touch. Bagale invited him and apparently four to five other ScottMadden consultants, including Whitaker, to do consulting for KSL.

Whitaker said he was a ScottMadden consultant for 13 years before resigning on Aug. 31. He became Bagale's deputy general manager at that time. Bagale resigned from KSL on Friday and Whitaker became president and general manager. Whittaker is the third president at KSL in about the last 13 months.

"As far as we're concerned," Roark said, "this is unconnected to the recent departure of KSL president and general manager Mike Bagale."

Auditor Brenda Fresquez of the Ethics and Audits Division is said to be conducting the audit.

ScottMadden, according to their website, specializes in the energy industry providing shared services and outsourcing. The company was founded some 20 years ago and has offices in Raleigh and Atlanta.

KSL was awarded the laboratory's Support Services Contract in February 2003. They are undergoing a re-organization and have been laying off some of their 1,320 employees recently.


As for SECURITY, well, today brings no more news about the "CREM de meth" incident of a couple of months ago, so we'll leave that one alone for now (except to state the obvious: that it was a REAL security infraction, not one simply manufactured for political purposes).


BOTTOM (Corporate) LINE:

Looks like corporatization hasn't done its highly advertized least not yet. Safety, security, business accountability - not to mention science and morale - appear to those of us in the trenches to be trampled into the mud at our feet. When a Director comes from sunny Northern California and is the first LANL Director to live "off the Hill," and doesn't know about "snow days," he might be excused for not dealing well with his first snow storm. But to call for de-icer in advance of a storm, just so that the workers on the corporate assembly line can keep producing widgets (or "gadgets," as they were called 63 years ago) for their full 8- (or 9-) hour shift, rather than monitoring weather conditions as they develop, well ... sorry, but that doesn't look good. I wonder if Senators Domenici and Bingaman and Congressman Udall still think that corporatization of LANL is such a hot idea, in retrospect.

Livermore people: Are you watching? Do you want the "inevitable" corporatization to steamroll you? (Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Congresswoman Pelosi: Do you REALLY want this to happen to LLNL?)

--Pat, the Dog

Isn't Sandia a "corporatized Lab" as well? How is Lockheed doing in Albuquerque with essentially the same mandate? I know their approach to the business community was one of open communication and inclusion during 2005.
Sandia is surely a "corporatized Lab," but they never were associated with a university, and they never had Los Alamos' freedom to do science and pretensions of academia, sometimes sneeringly referred to as a "campus-like atmosphere."

When the two competitors for the LANL contract had their public offices in Los Alamos--LockMart just behind Starbucks (open and friendly and eager to talk about their hopes and plans for running the Lab) and Bechtel behind locked doors in a hidden hallway in the bowels of the former Motorola Building (when I knocked on the door, someone finally answered, asked what I wanted, said he was busy, "but, oh, well, I guess you can come in and we'll talk for a minute, but I have to make a conference call pretty soon")--it dawned on me that the Sandia model wasn't really all that foreign to Los Alamos. Of course, Sandia is not the perfect model for Los Alamos (probably no corporate structure fits very well for a scientific laboratory)--one might have thought that Livermore would be a closer fit--and they both (Livermore and Sandia) have had very similar difficulties (and safety, security, and business-practice troubles, too). But C. Paul Robinson (Sandia's former President and LockMart candidate for LANL Director) had been at Los Alamos for many years himself, and genuinely seemed to understand and care for the place, "campus-like atmosphere" and all.

I'm not saying that Anastasio is worse than Robinson might have been. I'm not saying he's better, either. I just know that LockMart and Bechtel/UC are not without their differences.

No matter what, I am sure there are some in Congress who take satisfaction in seeing that corporatization has successfully sucked away LANL's "campus-like atmosphere."

-Brad Lee Holian
I realize that LANS has a lot to answer for, but somehow attaching LANL to that article on the traffic accidents is ridiculous.
From this part of the story

Solano said it was his understanding that, at some point in the afternoon, an e-mail notice was sent to employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory to warn them that the de-icer had been applied "and that the road could be slippery."

He said he didn't know if the warning was sent before or after the wrecks.

LANL spokesman James Rickman said Friday night that, at about 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., an all-employee e-mail was sent by the lab's public affairs office warning LANL workers to use extreme caution driving home because of the de-icer. Rickman didn't know the source of the information for the e-mail or whether the Transportation Department had asked that the warning be issued.

it seems pretty clear to me that LANS neither had a clue, nor much cared about the safety of its employees driving home that day. The first two accidents occurred before 2:00pm, and the third before 3:00pm. Plenty of time for the lab to have issued it's own warning before the fatal accident occurred at 4:32pm.
FYI, here are the two e-mails:

Subject: LANL-ALL2080: Caution: Anti-icing operations on NM502
From: "Communications Office - LANL Notices"
Date: Fri, December 15, 2006 2:34 pm
Please note the following from Emergency Management and Response:

The State Highway and Transportation Department is conducting anti-icing operations on NM 502 from top of the Main Hill Road to just past Totavi. Anti icing chemicals are applied in liquid form to road surfaces before a snow or ice storm, and to be truly effective must be done a couple of days in advance of inclement weather. De-icing, however, can make the road extremely slick for a period of time after application. All employees who use this stretch as they commute home are asked to please slow down and use extreme caution driving in this area.
Communications Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory


Subject: Fwd: LANL-ALL2081: Accident on NM502 near Totavi
From: "Communications Office - LANL Notices"
Date: Fri, December 15, 2006 4:53 pm

Please note the following from Emergency Management and Response:

There has been an accident on NM 502 near Totavi in the westbound lanes. Expect delays. Please be patient and drive safely.
Communications Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory


Sheriff Solano seems to be a little surprised at this de-icing project:
"I've never heard of a liquid de-icer like this," Solano said. "I don't know if this is something new."
Who suggested doing it? Someone "in charge" at LANL? And what about warning the uphill traffic, or people coming downhill who weren't in e-mail contact?
From today's Albuquerque Journal:

[State Transportation Secretary Rhonda] Faught said a department employee called the Los Alamos National Laboratory Friday afternoon to give notice that the chemical would be applied at the bottom of the hill. She called the notice standard operating procedure for any kind of road maintenance work.
Asked if the department wanted LANL workers to be warned that the road would be slick, she said, "Any time you put something on the highway you want people to be careful."

(end quote)

It's pretty clear we can't blame the de-icer mess on LANS. It's also interesting that the fatal accident occurred in the westbound (uphill) direction near Totavi - not the end-of-day commute direction. One could argue that LANS actually saved some lives last week.
Apparently, Colorado experimented with de-icer about 8 years ago, and decided that the liquid by itself was way too dangerous. So they started to mix it with salt and sand to make it less slippery. New Mexico is only 8 yrs. behind, and this looks like bad decisions born of inexperience (NM DOT and LANS) came together for a tragedy.
Was this the Patty Booth that ran the coffee shop inside the new Cookin' in Style?
"It's pretty clear we can't blame the de-icer mess on LANS. It's also interesting that the fatal accident occurred in the westbound (uphill) direction near Totavi - not the end-of-day commute direction. One could argue that LANS actually saved some lives last week."

Well, yes I suppose one could argue that point, in the sense that you can always find somebody who will disagree with you.

On the other hand, I remember in years past that whenever there was an accident on 502, LANL would promptly put out an announcement. The tardiness of LANL's announcement, coupled with the fact that Rickman was clearly uninformed regarding the origins of the announcement when it was finally made indicates that LANS is indifferent at best regarding the welfare of staff.

By contrast, they seem pretty focused on cost reduction (profit maximization).
Well, let's not forget those delicious BONUSES.
Patty Booth was the fatality in the de-icer incident. Her husband Brian and herself have recently opened TheCoffeeBooth -- located next to Metzger's and Home Run Pizza. Give him your support!

How 'bout actually using those LAB traffic displays to warn ALL drivers about 'the hill' road conditions. The west-bound signs are about 1.5 miles before the scene of this accident!
Would using the Lab signs cut into ... profits?
Well, we'll know that the LANS managers are reading this new blog when they start using the sign for that purpose. Thanks, Anonymous 12/17/2006 6:43 PM: you've given LANS a cost-effective way to show us all that they really do care after all. Look to next month's paycheck for your bonus.

The rest of you get back to work. Start studying up for those drug tests that are coming next year.

Did I mention the lie detector tests?
How on earth can one link the de-icer, applied by the NM State DOT, to LANS in any way? Get real!
And since at least two of the drivers who slid around out there were not Lab employees, what possible point is there in debating the Lab safety e-mail that went out at 2:34? I should think one could give LANS (or at least the Public Affairs Office) a little credit for warning the employees. Or more to the point, perhaps the STATE could use one of their handy highway mobile signs wherever they're spreading stuff. We should be bashing the state on this, it has NOTHING to do with the Lab!
It is not surprising that LANS has the same kind of security and safety incidents as LANL did. Most managers were managers before LANS showed up. Nor do I believe businesses do a better job than government or Universities in managing anything. They just give a nice fat profit to friends of whoever awarded the contract with lots of input from senators and members of the executive branch.
They way to stop safety and security breeches is to show by management behavior that they truly appreciate good safety and security work by word and pay and promotion.
I have to say that I am amazed that no charges have been filed regarding the removal of secret documents from the laboratory.
This case looks clearer than any of the security cases in recent years at LANL.
As for collusion on the part of the former president of KSL and ScottMadden, Inc., I suspect no one will be charged while Cheney is Vice-President.
Subject: LANL-ALL 2083: Expected Snowfall
Date: (2006 December 18 14:39:07 MST

The weather forecast for the Los Alamos area continues to call for snow showers, with up to a two-inch accumulation by 6 p.m. The forecasts continue to predict that accumulations overnight could be heavy - from three to five inches, up to more than a foot of snow here in the mountains, and above 7000 feet. The National Weather Service is continuing to post a snow and high wind watch that covers our entire employee commute, including Albuquerque, the Jemez Mountains and north to Taos, this evening through tomorrow afternoon.
We have every indication that inclement weather will arrive as predicted and will result in SIGNIFICANT precipitation, much of it as snow.

Each of you should evaluate predicted conditions for your particular commuting route and make contingency plans for Tuesday and possibly Wednesday. It is too early to predict what, if any, delay may be made in the Laboratory's opening time. However, if you anticipate a problematic commute you may wish to take vacation time or make specific work arrangements with your supervisor.

Above all, please make safe and reasonable choices that reflect your own assessment of risk associated with the anticipated driving conditions from your residence to LANL. While we will attempt to make sure the latest information is recorded on the update "hot line" concerning the Laboratory status, please check with your local law enforcement and the State of New Mexico for specific information outside of Los Alamos County. The Website for road conditions is or call the Road Advisory Hotline at 1-800-432-4269.
Public Affairs Office
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Mail Stop C177
Los Alamos, NM 87545

PLEASE NOTE: This is a notification system only, please do not respond to this e-mail. Thank you!
If you think this message is interesting, and you want to share it, please forward it – even to your manager (most managers can be trusted), but be sure to delete the information of the person that sent it to you before you send it. This message is being sent anonymously (i.e. not to the readers forum) because there is a fear of retaliation. If you are a manager, or this message angers you, please don’t justify that fear by attempting to figure out where it was initiated. Do the right thing, and prove that fear to be unjustified – work to build trust.

Does safety or pride go before the fall?

Due to recent weather, and the Lab’s failure to close for unsafe road conditions, a raging debate has ensued. Many workers say - How can safety be first when the Lab doesn’t close because of unsafe work travel conditions. Lab management says - Be safe, safety is first. If you think driving to work in ice and snow is unsafe, don’t come (take vacation time), we will support your decision.

The management stance is supported by a belief that safety is owned by all. Everyone needs to make the personal choice to be safe. Why should employees sit back and wait for someone to decide for them? Step up and be safe – that is what is expected of you and it is what you should want and expect from yourself. You can’t expect someone to always make all of your decisions and keep you totally safe, you have skin in the game and need to make safe decisions for yourself.

It makes sense. How can anyone argue with that?

Here is how:

Policy exists to specify how the Lab closes due to inclement weather. The mere existence of this policy shows that if the Lab (as determined by process) thinks it is dangerous to come to work it will close. The debate as to who (you or the Lab) should make the decision is irrelevant; by policy the Lab makes the decision. Lab management has gone above and beyond by adding – even if the Lab thinks it is safe for you to come to work; if you don’t, we will support your decision, take a vacation day. The problem is that Lab management has set the safety threshold too low in this case. Using this logic, the Lab would be able to dispense with many irritating safety regulations; let’s explore a few examples:
It is now OK to work on flat roofs without fall protection, because, statistically speaking it is very unlikely that anyone will actually fall. How many times has fall protection actually prevented a fall from a flat roof on Lab property? If you want to wear fall protection, we will support your decision, but it is not up to us, you make your own safety decisions. Feel free to purchase your own fall protection equipment.
Safety briefings at the beginning of hazardous work are no longer scheduled. We acknowledge that having these meetings reduces the risk of injuries, but we want to remind you that safety is your own personal choice. If you would like ISM planning, we will support your decision; you may take vacation time to have these meetings.
The Lab has provided basic safety requirements if you work in an office. If you feel that ergonomics (stretching, ergo evals, etc.) are important, don’t wait for someone else to make that decision, we fully support it - you may take vacation time for this.
Obviously these changes wouldn’t fly because employee behavior is driven by Lab policy and management decisions, especially when employees are financially influenced (vacation time) to follow the Lab’s lead. So why is the Lab financially motivating employees to be unsafe when if comes to traveling in ice and snow? These extreme conditions only occur a few of times per year, and nobody can argue that they are not causing injuries and in rare cases, death. Let’s stop hiding behind the rhetoric and discuss what is really driving the decisions, money & pride. There is a quote floating around, “I have never closed a Lab yet [for a snow day] and I am not going to start now.” Maybe that is inaccurate, I don’t know – either way it certainly captures the general perception assumed of those making the decisions.

Money: Closing the Lab for a day costs somewhere in the range of $5M, but we spend hundreds of millions on other safety measures, so why is this one different? Here is the rub: if you are injured on-site, liability becomes very clear and settlement will cost the Lab big $$. If you are injured on your way to work, liability is very gray, and it is likely the Lab won’t have to pay a dime. So what is the value of a human life? Well, I guess that depends on if you are at work or not. If you are on-site, you are worth a lot … if you are on your way here or home … not so much.

Clearly, safety is not first … money or pride goes first around here.
This message [my previous anonymous post] was posted on 12/19/06. I am pleased to see that management stepped up to the plate and took actions on 12/20/06 & 12/21/06 to clearly demonstrate that they do care about safety, and that safety is first. Apparently, lessons were learned – I withdraw my criticism.
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