Saturday, January 06, 2007

 

Bush Decides on New NNSA Chief

Bush picks new head of nuclear agency

H. JOSEF HEBERT
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The White House said Friday that President Bush has chosen a replacement for the man ousted as head of the government's nuclear weapons program in the wake of reports of embarrassing security breakdowns.

Bush selected Thomas P. D'Agostino, who currently serves as deputy administrator of defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, to succeed Linton Brooks in the top job there on an acting basis.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman had said Thursday that Brooks would resign within the month. The agency maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile and oversees the nation's weapons research laboratories.

"I have decided it is time for new leadership at the NNSA," Bodman said.

Brooks, a former ambassador and arms control negotiator, said he accepted the decision, one he understood was "based on the principle of accountability that should govern all public service. This is not a decision that I would have preferred."

Brooks was reprimanded in June for failing to report to Bodman the theft of computer files at an NNSA facility in Albuquerque, N.M., that contained Social Security numbers and other data for 1,500 workers.

Then in October hundreds of pages of classified weapons-related documents from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were found during a drug raid in the home of a woman who had worked at the lab.

That security breakdown was especially troubling, a department inspector general's report said, because it came after tens of millions of dollars had been spent to upgrade cyber-security at Los Alamos. A new management group also had been put in charge only a few months earlier - also a fallout over the repeated security problems.

The New Mexico laboratory is one of three major research labs that are part of the nuclear weapons complex under the NNSA. The agency was created after the security flap involving Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in the late 1990s in hopes that a single agency within DOE might provide more control over security.

Meanwhile, lab spokesman Steve Sandoval said Friday the installation in New Mexico plans to implement an expanded substance abuse policy that includes random drug tests of employees and pre-employment drug screening for lab workers and contractors.

All lab policies, including current substance abuse guidelines, have been under review since last year, before Los Alamos National Security LLC took over the lab's management in June from the University of California, which ran the lab for the DOE for decades, he said.

Michael Anastasio, the lab's director, notified employees about the new policy last month "to let people know this was coming and take it seriously," Sandoval said.

In announcing Brooks' resignation, Bodman said the NNSA had "done its best" to address the problems, but that progress had not been adequate.

"Therefore, and after careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for new leadership at the NNSA," Bodman said.

Some members of Congress questioned whether Brooks' departure is enough to make the changes that are needed.

"It will take more than a new boss to fix the problems, which are far more systemic and pervasive in nature," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considering hearings on DOE security.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., said she also plans a hearing by her House Armed Services subcommittee on "the important policy and structural changes" planned to improve the nuclear agency. Her aides said she believes the issue is one that goes beyond Brooks, whom she praised.

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on both the Senate Energy Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on NNSA spending, said Bodman "has sent a clear message" that improvements are needed at the agency.

A number of lawmakers as well as private watchdog groups have maintained that Brooks had not responded forcefully enough to the Los Alamos security breakdowns.

"His departure is long overdue," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Thursday. He had called for Brooks' immediate firing last summer when the theft involving information on the 1,500 employees came to light.

In November, the Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, urged that Brooks be fired, saying he had been slow in implementing a two-year-old policy to do away with removable storage devices in weapons-related computers.

In his message to employees, Brooks, who came to NNSA in July 2002, bemoaned the lack of progress in solving security problems at Los Alamos. "We have not yet done so in over five years," he said.

But the rash of security problems date back to the late 1990s, frustrating senior DOE officials.

They include the disappearance of two hard drives containing classified material that later were found behind a copying machine and the disappearance of two computer disks that forced a virtual shutdown of Los Alamos. It later was learned the two disks never existed.

Among other incidents were lost keys to classified areas containing highly enriched uranium, use of less secure e-mail systems to transmit classified material, scientists losing track of vials of plutonium and the alleged improper use of government credit cards.

Comments:
Notice that "scandals" have been downgraded to "problems." Now, that's progress! LANL's come a long way, baby!
 
Also notice that this is the same D'Agostino who gave Bechtel the LANL contract. Guess who's also going to "win" the LLNL contract.

I'd love to see an investigation launched on this sham process that is allowing the Bush administration to sell off our national labs to their corporate friends.
 
Soon the "sham process" will produce "sham labs."
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: Launch an investigation...soon!
 
The tone-deafness of some LANL staff in this matter is hard for me to understand. Sham labs? Launch an investigation about the RFP? Do you think the public or Congress really cares? All they want is:

(1) To never again hear about another security or safety screw-up at LANL
(2) That we are, in some sense, seeing that this country has nukes, but they
are very ambivalent about this one.

That's it. Other than that, Congress and the public taxpayers don't give a hoot about the prima-dona's at Los Alamos. In fact, both Repubs and Dems in Congress get mighty angry when they see the "we're great scientist, so you better treat us with great respect" attitude.

It's this type of attitude that is going to be the death of this laboratory. We could get away with it all through the 50's to the 80's, but no longer. We had St. Pete to protect us during the 90's and early 2000's, but our protectors in Congress are now all falling by the wayside. We're quickly making enemies of both Repubs (Hopson, Barton, etc.) and the Dems who will be taking over power (Markey, Dingell, etc.). We've also made enemies of key people within NNSA and DOE. Certainly, D'Agostino is not going to have much love for LANL when he takes over his new position. This is not a smart plan for survival.

The lack of common-sense in this matter among a large portion of the staff at LANL is disheartening. I don't like the new drug testing policy, but sometimes you have to put up with less than ideal situations if you want to re-gain credibility. And right now, the credibility that LANL has in the eyes of both the public and Congress is at dangerously low levels. We can do better. In fact, we must to do better, because our time is about to run out. If you can't support the new policies that will be necessary to re-gain our credibility with both the public and Congress, then please leave. If you stay and continue to bitch about these new policies, you will only be helping to pull this lab into the evolving death spiral that is now before us.
 
Dear 11:15AM

You do not get it. It is not the staff at LANL that are the problem. It has been the leardership at DOE and NNSA. If that does not change than we will have problem after problem. It is that simple. Get a clue pal. It is not the staff. Try thinking, it is good for you.
 
Sadly, aside from the first few years of Los Alamos Lab's existence, the lab's collective impression of itself was not matched by the impressions that outsiders have of Los Alamos.

The last 15 years in particular have seen a decline in the quality of management at LANL, with the result that the quality of science has suffered badly.

The fact is, the institution has been so badly damaged by years of long-term management ineptitude, compounded now by the malicious, avaricious, heavy-handed aegis of the new corporate contractor, there just might not be anything at LANL worth saving.

There is nothing that is currently done at Los Alamos that could not be done elsewhere, and probably done better. I'm sorry, but the "God, mother, apple pie, and nuclear weapons" argument for knuckling under to the new management regime just does not cut it for me.
 
Well I guess it's time to start weeding out those who oppose the new rules, regulations, drug testing, polygraph testing, don't like their new leaders, don't like NNSA and don't like DOE or the UC. What will be left are those who have now fears, will get the job done and spend less time bitching and therefore are actually earning their money. Can you say a 50% cut at LANL immediately if not sooner? Now that should make a point wouldn't you say.
 
Sure.

As long as you define "work" at LANL as spending 6 1/2 hours per day filling out meaningless paperwork, taking "mandatory" training, and being lectured about safety and security.

On a related subject: how's the WFO (Work For Others) situation at the lab these days? Has it dropped to less than 2% of the total budget yet?
 
Hey 11:57am

You really do not know what the hell you are talking about and I have real doubts you even work at LANL. Los Alamos
science has not declined in the last 15yrs. Every quantitative indicator
says so. Look at the number of publications, citations and high impact work that has been done in the last 15 yrs. This work has ranged from high magnetic field science, quantum information, HIV, the human genome project, materials science, and neurtrinos. Also more recently we are have been doing outstanding work on epidemics and homeland defense. Make no mistake there a lot of things that currently cannot be done elsewhere or at
the high quality that it is done at LANL. There are still people within the last two years how have had great offeres at other labs and the top universities that have
opted to stay at the lab since it still in many ways it is the premiere scientific laboratory
in the country. All this has been documented before. Over the last 10 yrs LANL was
in the top 10 institutes in the world in terms of scientific impact. Also what you
seem to miss is that LANL is not just a nuclear weapons lab. LANL does work
on basic, science, biological science, geology, and materials, homeland defense and many many other things. The outside scnientfic community has a tremendously high opinion of Los Alamos.

I agree that the management has been very poor. For instance the management
should be highlighting all good things and breakthroughs done at Los Alamos. I would say that much of the DOE and NNSA management simply do not know what occurs at LANL or any of the other labs. Linton Brooks at one point said publicly that LANL's safety record was orders of magnitudes worse that the other DOE labs. In fact this was completely false and a simple look at actual numbers show that LANL was one of the safest labs. How could the head of NNSA be so utterly and completely incompetent to have said this.

If the leadership in DOE and NNSA really are as incompetent as Linton Brooks, than yes, in the end all the NNSA run labs will be doomed.

However there is hope. Nanos was fired and now Brooks is fired. Maybe it is not the
"culture" maybe it is incompetent management. Maybe someone up there is getting a clue.
 
To 2:45pm

You are truly a delusional person, or more likely a troll. The people that can readily leave the lab are the best and hardest working people. Also, a simple lesson from the history is that it is always the people that speak up, or whine as you keep saying, that are the hardest working, dedicated, honest, and the best at what they do. Conversely the people who hide, take it, ignore blatant wrong practices, or worse yet back wrong or immoral actions to save there own skin are usually lazy, dishonest, incompetent and untrustworthy . History has revealed the fate of these people over and over again. Eventually they will come for you too.

I can just imagine a person like you at the birth of our country. "Stop your whining about England and do your job, pay your taxes and shut up. The higher ups in England are sick of you elitist whiny know it all's and your stupid ideas about democracy. If you do not like being part of the British empire or its repressive laws, please leave. You are just endangering the rest of us and making the colonies look bad. If England says pee in a cup you should pee in a cup."
 
Following up on 1/06/2007 5:10 PM's comments: "The people that can readily leave the lab are the best and hardest working people."

Many already have.

There have been approximately 2,500 people leave since the Nanos bullshit started. I know at least 40 of them, and they were all very good at what they did. They had no trouble, aside from having to make the sometimes hard decision to leave Los Alamos, in finding new and better positions.
 
"You do not get it. It is not the staff at LANL that are the problem. It has been the leardership at DOE and NNSA. If that does not change than we will have problem after problem. It is that simple. Get a clue pal. It is not the staff. Try thinking, it is good for you."
- Poster 1/06/2007 11:52 AM -

Au contre. Wen Ho Lee was a staff member. The mysterious person who "misplaced" the NEST hard drives was a staff member, too. Jessica Quintana was a sub-contractor, but someone who was a LANL staff member must have signed off on her Sigma 15. The lady in procurement who was recently sentenced for embezzlement of lab funds also worked on the LANL staff.

Regardless of all this, I think you are partially right. For example, other classified organizations in the US Government have these types of mistakes. Shit like this happens. It's part of the risk of doing the type of work we do. The difference is, when LANL has a screw-up, it seems to inevitable end up on the front pages of the national media. And I also agree with you that the leadership from NNSA and DOE stinks. But so what? Do you really think that's going to change? I don't, and I've been here long enough to have a pretty good idea of what's possible and what's not. As far as your comment of "try thinking, it's good for you", I do think about what's happening to LANL quite a bit. It makes me sad when I see how things have degenerated between staff members, between staff and LANL management, and between LANL and NNSA/DOE. The dismal funding situation that currently exists at the lab is also adding a large dose of unhealthy stress to everyones life.

I've had a chance to witness other organizations in crisis. Most of them seem to do a much better job of handling it than LANL. Based on this, I've concluded that LANL has a very dysfunctional environment. It seems to be a place that's devolved into "every man for himself". Still, some realism is needed. New policies will be necessary to reassure both the public and Congress that things are "improving" at LANL. Maybe it's just window-dressing, but these new policies are coming. If you think you can change them, you are probably wrong. And don't under-estimate the power of perception. If the public and Congress continue to perceive LANL staff as a bunch of incompetent whiners, then, rightly or wrongly, we are surely doomed.
 
Those of us who attended the meetings about the RFP know Thomas d'Agostino to be just like Linton Brooks. He makes up his mind and can't be dissuaded by facts. We can expect more of the same if he is in charge.
 
Where are the auditors? Aren't they supposed to be identifying control weaknesses before they escalate into problems? Why didn't they identify the system flaws that contributed to the multitude of security snafus and procurement fraud scandals occurring over the past decade? Why did the Lab hire a former DOE official with a long history of sexual improprieties in the workplace to head up all the audit, investigations and employee complaint resolution processes at the Lab? Where are the whistleblowers? Are they the problem or are we the problem for preferring they be destroyed? Indeed the problems at Los Alamos are very, very deep and therefore very, very difficult to fix. We reject oversight, we reject accountability and most of all we reject criticism regardless of merit. Hence we utilize unscrupulous managers to neuter the audit function, retaliate against whistleblowers and, in short, shoot the messengers. Through these actions we plant the seeds that grow into the scandals that bring into question our judgment and credibility as an institution and thus threatens our collective futures. We’ve met the enemy in other words, and the enemy is us.
 
Well there is nothing like being a real leader, is there. I see no preoblem with working for people like this. For the wimps who have never been in the miltary, well, if you don't like that type of leadership, then you can leave, NOW!!!

Those of us who attended the meetings about the RFP know Thomas d'Agostino to be just like Linton Brooks. He makes up his mind and can't be dissuaded by facts. We can expect more of the same if he is in charge.
 
8:33AM

You were never in the millitary. Guys like you end up getting fragged. So just STFU.
 
What 1/07/2007 2:25 PM said:

Nanos was a prick too, and he sort of got fragged.
 
D'Agostino attended the Naval Academy. Looks like another Ring-Knockers has made it to the top of NNSA. Perhaps he'll place Ring-Knocker Nanos back into LANL to replace the prematurely departed Mr. Mitchell?

It must be nice to be part of the exclusive ol'boy Ring-Knocker club.
 
POGO used a FOIA act to get a redacted verions of the DOE IG's report on the Meth incident at Los Alamos. You can read it here:

http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/files/DOE_IG_Crem_de_Meth.pdf

I have another suggestion for the DOE auditors on how to stop any chance, whatsoever, of a security compromise. Glue shut the doors to all classified computing offices and don't let anyone in to them. That should results in zero chance of another security incident, which is what DOE auditors seems to be shooting for. In the same vein, locking the new security gates that are opening for service on Monday would, likewise, help in achieving a zero chance of another safety incident.
 
Interesting article at Slate containing an interview with Linton Brooks. My favorite Brooks' quote was this one:

/////////////////////////////

An example of that, Brooks continued, was the case of the "missing" Los Alamos disks.

"Almost everything we thought was true in the first 96 hours turns out not to have been true," he said.

/////////////////////////////

I'm sure the deceased Todd Kauppila is very please to know all this, Linton. Did you inform his wife of your big mistake, or would an apology have been too demeaning for a big, important man like yourself?

Thank goodness this man was publicly humiliated and kicked-out from his position. No mea culpa of "gotta spend more time with the wife and kids" for this guy. Brooks is a textbook example of someone who may be good at some tasks (disarmament negotiations), but has absolutely no business managing an organization. His failure to tell Bodman about DOE/ABQ's loss of personal information for over 9 months was probably the "Opps" that finally did him in. The Meth incident at Los Alamos just provided the convenient excuse Bodman needed to finally kick his incompetent ass out the door.

You can find the rest of the article here:

Atomic Fallout - The administration dumps its nuclear chief,
but can anyone else do better?

http://www.slate.com/id/2157150/
 
Domenici: Blend labs' designs for new nuke - New Mexican, Jan 9

http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/54923.html
.........
But instead of one winner, why not two?

The New York Times reported Saturday that President Bush's administration will propose combining parts of each design.

New Mexico's congressional delegation and the agency that oversees the weapons stockpile was unable to confirm that report Monday. But last month, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., suggested that approach.

..........
But Congress has to approve and pay for the project, NNSA reports.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has questioned the need for the program.

"Congress has supported preliminary research and design work, but we're now getting to a stage where we either commit substantial funding or hold off," Bingaman said Monday. "Before any decision is made, we need to answer many questions, including how much this will cost, how long it will take and how we draw down the existing stockpile to meet our treaty obligations. I hope the Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings soon so we can get some answers."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Does St. Pete know something about the direction of this nuke competition? Why the sudden urge to scrap any real competition and "blend" the designs? Also, it appears that Bingamin and the Dems who took over power in Congress are not going to fund the RRW effort in any meaningful fashion. RRW is most likely going to be shelved. They'll tell the labs "Thank, you, but no thanks. Just put the plans in storage". No one in Congress feels any urgency to earmark large sums of money for this endeavor. It's DOA.

Instead of increasing funds for Complex 2030, we're about to see less funding, as a bi-partisan effort emerges to shrink the Federal deficit. It's going to be a repeat of the Congressional actions we saw during the mid-90's. Cuts of 10% in the lab budget for next year are not unthinkable. Even a 5% cut in LANL's budget will result in a significant RIF occurring in FY'08. There has long been talk of getting rid of one of the NNSA defense labs (either LANL or LLNL). I suspect interest in that subject will re-emerge, once again.

Hold on to your seats. I'm afraid it's going to be a wild and scary ride for the next few years. The new drug testing policy should be the least of your concerns.
 
"Conversely the people who hide, take it, ignore blatant wrong practices, or worse yet back wrong or immoral actions to save there own skin are usually lazy, dishonest, incompetent and untrustworthy."

Or they've only got a few years to retirement and they can't aford to throw it away.
 
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