Sunday, January 14, 2007


Abandon the Random

Holian has an open letter on random drug tests to Director Anastasio further down the page, and I would have left it at that. However, I've gotten so many e-mails asking that today's SF NewMex opinion piece be posted, that I'm going to relent, just this once. His earliest posting on drug testing clearly expressed outrage at such a thing being done at Los Alamos, at least randomly over the entire Lab population. This opinion piece here, however, is more carefully reasoned, much in the spirit of his Physics Today article that was published over two years ago, which showed that the excuses that were put forth for shutting down the entire Lab for seven months were specious. Here, he's saying that a policy that pits management against workers will cause an already demoralized staff to become even less productive. That's clearly not what LANS should want, since a burden of more work is being imposed with fewer resources, thanks to the costs of corporatization. I'm still skeptical that reason will prevail, but you never can tell until you give it the old obedience-school try.

--Pat, the Dog


Santa Fe New Mexican 01/14/2007, Page F03

Random lab drug testing a bad idea
By Brad Lee Holian

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s proposed drug policy sets up an adversarial relationship between management and lab workers, rather than one of cooperative team work.
With regard to drug abuse, the approach of the new management team, LANS LLC, in these difficult times should follow LANL Director Michael Anastasio’s stated approach to safety and security, namely, fostering a spirit of teamwork, cooperation, and buy-in to the general program by employees.
Former LANL Director G. Peter Nanos said golden words about building mutual confidence between management and workers in both safety and security, but in practice, his short term as director was marked by heavy handed intimidation and fear, from which the lab has not fully recovered after two and a half years. Nanos’ harsh, military approach was encouraged by National Nuclear Security Administration Chief Linton Brooks. Now that Ambassador Brooks has been relieved from command of NNSA by Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, there is a new window of opportunity to establish a better footing, possibly even trust, in the relationship between management and workers at Los Alamos.
I encourage Dr. Anastasio to consider taking a major step in that direction by eliminating random drug testing from the proposed new drug policy.
It is clear that Congress wants the lab to deal with ongoing safety and security lapses, though they don’t seem to realize, nor does the general public, that “zero occurrences” of accidents or security violations is impossible to achieve, even under the very best of safety and security programs.
Keeping the nation’s defense secrets safe from foreign espionage and the workplace as free from accidents is humanly possible, both require attention to the frailties inherent in human behavior, most importantly in the area of addictive behavior. The addictions that are most problematic are easy to identify, in rough order of occurrence: Sex, alcohol, gambling, prescription drugs (anti-depressants and painkillers), cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. (I’ve left out tobacco and caf­feine, but they really don’t pose serious problems in workplace safety or national security.) In addition to long-term health problems, each of these addictions can have deleterious effects on a worker’s family life, put fellow workers at risk of increased accidents, and for Q-cleared workers in particular, make workers prone to blackmail. Moreover, the support of addictive habits can cause grave financial difficulties. Blackmail and financial reward are two of the most effective tools of foreign espionage in prying loose or buying secrets.
Clearly, random drug tests cannot identify many of these more serious addictive problems. In the classified arena, there are extensive periodic background checks before a Q-clearance is granted. In addition, the principal tool that conscientious managers have is their eyes and ears, namely, keeping good lines of communication with the workers directly under them.
An incident of inebriation on the job obviously has to trigger the threshold of probable cause for a drug test; however, randomly testing the general lab populace, particularly those who do not handle dangerous materials or operate dangerous equipment, is completely uncalled for.
But the main difficulty with random drug tests is the adversarial atmosphere they bring down on the lab, and the side effects of demoralization, humiliation, and reduced productivity, not to mention the sheer cost of administering them. Moreover, if a worker is immediately put onto a Performance Action Track, based on a positive outcome of a drug test, and the “positive” is actually an error, there is almost no way to undo the disgrace and disruption to the worker’s career.
Rather than attaching permanent blame to addictive behavior, management ought to realize that they can help a worker out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, and still reap years of pro­ductivity for the Lab and the nation.
I encourage Dr. Anastasio to choose teamwork over an “us versus them: Managers against workers” atmosphere for Los Alamos and abandon the random drug tests.
Brad Lee Holian has been a theoretical physicist at LANL for 34 years and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Copyright © 2007 Santa Fe New Mexican 01/14/2007

I believe that management could bridge some distance in the "Us vs. them" mentality of drug testing if they will demonstrate their commitment to a drug-free-security zone.

Specifically, what if every manager at LANS were routinely tested every Monday morning? And, in addition, a set percent (say 8%) were randomly tested during the week?

Would that make the randomly tested workers feel any better?
Are you saying that there exists a serious drug-abuse problem among managers? Seen any staggering around the halls of the NSSB drunk or high?
As in: "Drunk" with power? "High" on ego?
Do the members of the LANS Board of Directors take polygraphs?
Shouldn't they?
Will they get coaching for this as some LANL upper managers get?

Are they going to be subject to random drug tests?
Again, it would seem appropriate!
Do these suggestions suggest that managers should participate in our "shared fate?"
"Specifically, what if every manager at LANS were routinely tested every Monday morning? And, in addition, a set percent (say 8%) were randomly tested during the week? Would that make the randomly tested workers feel any better?" - Poster 12:59pm

Only if these managers were immediately put on Investigatory Leave on passing the threshold and had to vacate their offices and turn in their badges, just like everyone else. Of course, this will never happen.
Susan Seestrom promised everyone in her recent directorate-wide e-mail that she would stand behind anyone who "self reported" ...
"[...] would stand behind anyone who "self reported" ..."

The image of Sue with a strap-on is kind of scary.

She stood behind Todd, too.
If you do not think there is illicit drug use at LANL as well as some extended use of prescription pain medication, you are naive. The extent of the use, or whether it has effects on performance, is a different issue.

Likewise, if you think that a clearance investigation will expose drug use, anger issues and alcohol abuse you are, unfortunately, mistaken.

Where did you find support/evidence for your claim that anti-depressants are addictive?

Research I've read indicates anti-depressants are not addictive.

Having been summoned down to DOE-Alb for a "bonus" interview after acknowledging have been prescribed anti-depressants, I assure you there was neither any mention nor concern of addiction in the interview. I have never been informed of any addiction potential by my doctor or the enclosed drug information with the prescription.

Having been tested for drugs and alcohol, none of the tests was for any anti-depressant compounds.
How NNSA motivates people:

Hire PhDs, and investigate them back for as long as it takes. Ask their neighbors and old friends to dig up the dirt on them. Get them in trouble for attending a left-wing rally that sophomore year in college -- 25 years ago (yes, it happens). Ask them to reveal their finances for the last 15 or more years; make them feel like criminals if anything looks wrong. Ask them to reveal a level of detail in their lives that would only normally be heard in a psychiatrist's office -- or in a straitjacket, under sodium pentothal. Make the process take, oh, a year or so; during which time the new hire understands they can get fired at any time, no reason given.

Then, the NNSA can hire a someone from the local area, with as little background check as possible. It's good to hire locally, right? Fast-track them to a Q clearance, and toss in a Sigma 15, which is hard as hell for many people go get. Ignore the two-man rule to save money. Then, when said hire screws up, blame it on ... well it can't be the NNSA, can it? The NNSA is perfect! It's those Damned PhDs!

Demand that at random intervals, they walk up to the happy truck with the patriotic slogan on the side ("The world's greatest Urinalysis protecting America"), yank out their penis in front of a complete stranger, and pee in a jar (or, for the ladies, what do you do? Squat down in front of someone? It may be worse than it is for the guys.). Failure to comply results in instant dismissal (but, if you do comply, you should at least make sure that their cup runneth over! -- it would contribute to the overall "atmosphere" of the Urine Van).

Oh yeah, this is how we hire the best and brightest. And retain them. Or, hey, maybe it isn't? Is it just possible that people are going to vote with their feet? Could be ...

It's well known, however, that an effective way to drive people into depression is to enforce penalties on them for crimes not commited. It's even better if the guilty are rewarded.

So, thanks, Pete Domenici, for the NNSA; thanks, Rep. Hobson, for the idiotic rebid process that gave us LANS; thanks, you fine folks at DOE and NNSA, who continue to find fault with those who are innocent. Trust us, the job market out there is not too bad, and people are leaving. You've done us the favor of giving us good reason to leave. Too bad you are destroying a great Lab in the process, but I doubt you care that much, do you?
For a less sensational perspective...

both HRP and SAP personnel regularly undergo random testing, as well as higher levels of coworker observation. The consequence of failure demands more controls.

Recent events are bringing the realization that the consequnces of error - even if only political repercussions - may put more personnel and processes under control.

It is fair to ask for a critical examination of whether the more onerous controls are beneficial, but it might be that they are.....

It is also fair to object to unreasonable or unjust treatment...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
To 1/15/07 7:28 pm -

First, the HRP drug/alcohol testing protocol is not "witnessed" and the new Substance Abuse policy does not require witnessing the sample, uh, donation process. So get over the idea that you'll have to show anyone your tiny pee-pee already.

Second, what is this nonsense about Sigma 15 being so hard to get? If your line manager feels you need it to do your job, you can get it. It's actually pretty friggin' easy if you have NTK. (A tad harder now with the UCSC office pulling back the delegation from group level managers, but still pretty friggin' easy).
Thanks you for that info, Poster 7:28pm. If it is "friggin' easy" to get a Sigma 15 at LANL, then that is frightening. I'm sure the Congressional Committee that is currently looking into this matter will be interested in examining this particular issue. Are there any other security barriers that are "friggin' easy" to overcome out there at LANL? Please let us know. You can contact Congressman Dingell's office directly.
The real problem with the random drug testing is that nobody has bothered to ask about the costs. Those individuals in HRP have to bill our sponsors an additional $5000/year for the random visit to the golden retriever. Just multiply that cost be each and every employee. Will these costs come out of the LANS award fee? I think not! LANS has already increased the cost of doing business on the order of why not cover the added costs of drug testing on the backs of terminating a few more contractors! Introduction of random testing will make a good sound bite when the director has to testify before Congress.

I wonder if LANS has included this in their Livermore bid?
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