Thursday, December 28, 2006


LANL -> LACL (stands for "Lackluster"?)

The following open letter to the Blog has been received from a former LANL employee, and it is with some sadness that I post it herewith.

--Pat, the Dog


I would like to observe that the name "Los Alamos National Laboratory" is no longer appropriate for that facility. Something like "Los Alamos Corporate Laboratory", or, in a few years "Los Alamos Corporate Plutonium Foundry" would be more fitting. It is becoming clear that the bottom-line profiteering orientation of LANS, LLC is completely incompatible with the quality of science that one would expect from a true national lab. Not, mind you, that LANL was well known for its quality of science (or much else, comes to that) under its waning years during the dubious leadership of the University of California. "The World's Greatest Science Serving America", or whatever that pompous slogan was that former director Admiral Peter G. Nanos coined was nothing but an embarrassing joke to both the staff at LANL and to the outsiders who had to interact with them.

The fact that a former national laboratory is now being run by a corporation is bad enough. That is is being run by a corporation comprised by some of the most corrupt, greedy, and (in the case of UC) incompetent organizations in the entire country is a travesty. Let's not compound the travesty further by allowing LANS, LLC to continue to include the words "National Laboratory" in the name of the corporation they are plundering.


A former employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory.


[P.S. Some of us know people who remember the name "Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory" with considerable nostalgia and fondness. -How far we've come since those bygone days, my friends. --Pat]

I overheard a conversation in a bar in Santa Fe the other night. The conversation was between a couple of obvious Los Alamos scientist types. What grabbed my attention was that they were talking about the "good old days" of LASL. That's Los Alamos *Scientific* Laboratory, for all you newcomers. The older guy was speculating that back then, the collective moral fiber of the lab and community was a bit stiffer than it has been demonstrated to be in recent years. His claim: the percentage of the "lackers" (those lacking in backbone, moral fiber, guts, whatever) was smaller back then, possibly because of institutional memory of the glory days when Feynman, Bethe, Fermi, ... yes, and even Teller ... wandered the hallowed halls. And Agnew, who wasn't about to put up with just any kind of crap.

The older guy's selective remembrances of Los Alamos' past grated on me a bit. As far as I'm concerned, scientists are scientists, then or now. In my opinion, the fine citizens of Los Alamos would have let themselves be steamrolled by the military industrial complex in 1958, or 1971, just as easily as they did in 2004 - 2005, had the opportunity arisen.

In other words... well, you probably get the point. Feynman was a fluke. Most scientists just don't have what it takes to stand up to a bully.
NNSA is eager to move LANL into a "Culture of Compliance" and this is not a good thing.

Now, don't get me wrong. No one wants to see serious safety or security problems at LANL. However, "Culture of Compliance", as implemented by NNSA (and LANS management), will completely gut this organization. Why? Because the emphasize is being radically skewed toward avoiding all mistakes, rather than achieving meaningful success. The goal becomes one of avoidance (i.e., the desire to avoid unfavorable judgments), rather than performance (i.e., the desire to show competence and achievement). Note that great achievements are frequently achieved on the back of big mistakes. It's a bitch, but that's how life and science frequently work.

NNSA's "Culture of Compliance" will also have a growing tendency to destroy any meaningful concept of customer service at LANL. When compliance becomes the over-riding concern, the phrase "How can I help you?" morphs into the phrase "Corporate policy doesn't allow this - end of story". The only customer who ends up being served in this situation is NNSA with their irrational fear of mistakes.

As I said at the start, no one wants to see national security endangered by reckless activity or by stupid safety practices. We've seen those problems at LANL. However, what is currently being fed down the throat of LANL's staff will eventually result in the complete gutting of LANL's rich heritage and there is currently no "push-back" to help slow it down.

Give NNSA's "Culture of Compliance" concept a few more years of implementation, and, trust me, you won't recognize this place. A sense of fear will grow amoung the remaining workers. Mistakes may get squashed, but so will any sense of meaningful scientific achievement. And once the scientific achievement is gone, what reason is there, really, to have a National Lab at a remote location like Los Alamos? The location becomes an ideal place for a pit factory or a warhead refurbishment plant, but not much else. And that, I fear, is precisely what NNSA has planned for this community.
LACL has achieved the status of a work-free safe and secure place.
You can't work safely and securely? What do you do and are you paid for it?
Like most people at LACL these days, I suspect "Anonymous 12/29/2006 5:38 AM" spends 90+% of his time filling out bureaucratic paperwork. When you factor in lunch and a couple of coffee breaks that probably leaves oh, 5 - 10 minutes a day to think about doing actual work.

When the new year starts next week, that 5 - 10 minutes plus the coffee breaks will be subsumed by additional security training lectures designed to show NNSA & DOE that classified documents and CREM will no longer walk out the door and into the drug economy supply chain.
Why doesn't everyone at LANL make this agreement with management: We will strive do to our jobs to provide you with the same level of service you provide us.
Ok, you're on.....define the level of service that management I can measure what my level of service should be measured against.....let's put it into a matrix so that HR can evaluate it, validate it, then send it up the chain.

Uhm.....don't we already have the upward appraisal thing and the LANL survey? Didn't the "spin doctors" have to work overtime on presenting the results in a positive light?
If we were were going to do the same level of service that management provides, we should all be staying home watching soap operas.
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