Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Congress scrutinizing LANL security
Santa Fe New Mexican
Congress scrutinizing LANL security
By JENNIFER TALHELM | Associated Press
January 30, 2007
WASHINGTON (AP) - Fed-up lawmakers will call Tuesday for a comprehensive
audit of Los Alamos National Laboratory in hopes of discovering why security
breaches continue even after tens of millions of dollars have been spent on
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he wants to evaluate whether the footprint
and mission of Los Alamos are too large and whether many of its classified
operations should be moved to another lab.
"I will not tolerate continued security lapses and a thumbing of their noses
at Congress," Stupak said in comments prepared for testimony at a Tuesday
hearing about security at the lab.
Stupak chairs a House oversight panel, which will grill Los Alamos officials
Tuesday about why a worker recently was able to walk out of the lab with
classified weapons-related documents.
The October incident was the latest security breach in a long line of
problems at the northern New Mexico nuclear-weapons research lab, the
birthplace of the atomic bomb.
A new management team was installed at the lab less than a year ago in part
to reverse years of security and safety problems.
But in October, hundreds of pages of classified lab documents were found
during a drug raid at the home of a former lab subcontractor's employee.
The embarrassing incident resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees
the lab. Linton Brooks, who already had been reprimanded for an earlier
incident, resigned earlier this month as head of the National Nuclear
Lab officials have said none of the material found during the October drug
raid was top secret. A lawyer for the employee, a 22-year-old archivist,
said she had taken it home to catch up on work.
But lawmakers and watchdog groups have raised numerous questions since,
including why the employee was able to take classified documents home when
her security clearance required that she be supervised at all times.
Lawmakers also want to know what has happened to repeated efforts to make
the lab disk-less so classified material could no longer be lost or stolen.
The rash of security problems at the lab dates back to the late 1990s. It
includes 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.
"A substantial amount of money was being spent on preventing the lab
employees from being able to take information away," said Rep. Tom Udall,
D-N.M., whose district includes Los Alamos. "How much of that has been
spent? Why wasn't this expenditure of money able to prevent this from
happening if they have this new system in place?"
Udall is not on the subcommittee holding the hearing, but he will attend to
make sure key questions are asked and answered, he said.
"This is a situation that demands continuous improvement," Udall said. "Are
they making continuous improvement or are they constantly in trouble on
these types of issues?"
Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said Los Alamos officials are "eager to explain
all the lab has done in response to this latest incident and to outline for
the panel his plan for the future."
"We realize that the questions are serious and that the solutions are
difficult," Roark said.
But officials at the Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog
group, predict the problems will continue unless the government puts more
emphasis on safety and security in the lab's management contract and
financially penalizes the lab for failing to improve security.
The group also encouraged lawmakers to audit the lab's work to see whether
it reflects Congress' priorities.
"For decades, Los Alamos has operated as a sacred cow with no serious
oversight," POGO's executive director, Danielle Brian, said in testimony
prepared for the hearing. "I hope this is the beginning of a new era."
Thu, Jan. 25, 2007
Sandia lab purchases questioned
LIVERMORE: Energy Department audit finds $374,286 in dubious charges to company credit cards
Sandia/California National Laboratories workers used company charge cards to make $374,286 worth of questionable purchases, federal investigators say.
The purchases -- made from January to November 2005 -- included items from an online adult novelty store, catered meals, massagers, movie tickets, coffee mugs and Sandia souvenir apparel, according a report by the U.S. Energy Department's inspector general.
"We concluded that Sandia-CA's internal controls did not ensure that purchases made using procurement cards were in accordance with applicable policies and procedures," the Jan. 18 report said.
Sandia lab engineers support Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's work on maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile and work on homeland security projects, automotive fuel efficiency and other work.
Mike Janes, a spokesman for Sandia in California, did not dispute the inspector general's findings. He said Wednesday that the company might disagree with some characterizations in the report.
For example, he confirmed that the employee who made the purchase at the adult store used the Sandia credit card by mistake. But, he said, the worker reported it to his managers and reimbursed Sandia long before the inspector general began his audit.
"Obviously we take these kinds of findings seriously, and we do have a number of internal controls and reports to ensure there's reasonable assurance that our procurement cardholders are adhering to policy," Janes said.
Sandia conducts internal audits of the program every other year and limits the number and types of merchants where the cards can be used, he said.
"Based on the inspector general's report, we're certainly going to be looking at those and beefing those up where appropriate," Janes said.
The report found that managers at Sandia's California operations approved 571 transactions worth $272,009 that lacked the required descriptions of items purchased.
Workers also bought restricted items without required advance permission, and those purchases were approved by managers without that permission, the report said.
Employees and visitors also might have inappropriately benefited from $102,277 worth of questionable items, the inspector general said.
Those included 218 purchases of meals worth $89,649 and 56 purchases of items such as massagers, water bottles and coins totaling $12,628, the report said.
Federal policy prohibits using government money to pay for meals unless the person is on official travel.
The inspector general recommended Sandia look into how much of the $374,286 should be reimbursed.
Although questionable purchases were only a small amount of the total, actions could be taken to decrease the risk of waste or abuse in the future, the report said.
Investigators reviewed all 21,568 card transactions, worth $12.7 million, during the 11-month period. Of those, investigators found 845 were questionable.
The inspector general said about 400 employees -- or 44 percent -- at Sandia's California operations have company credit cards, most with a spending limit of $5,000 per transaction and $25,000 per month.
"We do not believe this is consistent with guidance pertaining to procurement card internal controls, which calls for the number of procurement card users to be limited to the minimum necessary to carry out activity missions," the inspector general said.
The procurement card program "was established to simplify the procurement of low value, commercially available goods and services without going through a more protracted and costly competitive procurement process," the report said.
Los Alamos National Laboratory's purchase card program came under scrutiny in 2002 after lab officials uncovered $2,500 in improper purchases.
Documents showed the cards were used by employees to get cash at a casino and shop at department stores.
Granted, that perception is fueled by having worked there for more than two decades, but it is my perception regardless.