Wednesday, January 31, 2007
More Screwtiny of LANL by Congress
Lawmakers: Lapses could spur lab’s end
House panel blasts ‘tedious’ Los Alamos security problems
By Jennifer Talhelm, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Fed-up lawmakers on a House oversight committee said Tuesday that they want to strip a federal nuclear agency of its security responsibilities and threatened to shut down Los Alamos National Laboratory to correct a decade of security lapses there.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said he has sat through nearly a decade of hearings in which the Energy Department and the Northern New Mexico nuclear weapons lab have promised to fix security problems. “I’ve been hearing these promises for a long time, and they’ve become somewhat tedious,” he said.
Lawmakers blistered the lab for its most recent security breach, in which a contract worker walked out with hundreds of pages of classified documents. The documents turned up during a drug raid last October involving a man who rented a room at the worker’s home.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that the Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down. “There is an absolute inability and unwillingness to address the most routine security issues at this laboratory,” Barton said.
Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department because of concerns that NNSA has not fixed security problems at Los Alamos despite spending tens of millions of dollars on improvements. “NNSA was a management experiment gone wrong,” Barton said.
Throughout Tuesday’s four hour hearing, lawmakers repeatedly asked why the lab needs to exist and whether it simply has too much responsibility for too many secret materials.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., called for a comprehensive audit of all services at Los Alamos.
He wants to evaluate whether its mission is too large and whether many of the classified operations should be moved to another lab. “I will not tolerate continued security lapses and a thumbing of their noses at Congress,” he said.
A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems.
Administration officials urged lawmakers to give the new managers more time to turn things around.
Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell also said Los Alamos probably could not be replaced or duplicated. It is the only place where plutonium pits for weapons can be made. Virtually everything that happens at Los Alamos is secret because the lab is responsible for the bulk of the strategic nuclear weapons stock pile, he said.
Sell promised that stronger security is possible.
“It appears to me the tail’s wagging the dog,” said a skeptical Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La. “It has been suggested that we shoot the dog,” Sell responded.
“I have to reject that suggestion in the strongest possible way. It is my view we have to have Los Alamos.”
The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake up in NNSA, which oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already rep rimanded for an earlier incident, resigned earlier this month as head of NNSA.
Lab officials have said none of the material found during the drug raid was top secret. A lawyer for the employee, a 22-year old archivist, has said she took it home to catch up on work.
Security problems at the lab date back to the late 1990s.
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 for months in 2004.
It later was learned those two disks never existed.
In response to the hearing, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said LANL is invaluable to the country and deserves strong congressional support. “I am deeply concerned about the recent loss of classified information, and I expect the NNSA to fully use whatever contractual measures that are in place ... to deal with the situation,” he said.
“But to suggest we could do without the lab is irresponsible and wrong-headed.”
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R N. M., the committee’s ranking Republican, echoed some of the same concerns while pointing out that officials have made recent personnel and policy changes to bolster lab security.
“Singling out LANL for security problems may generate headlines, but it is hardly the only government agency to struggle with this issue,” he said in a news release. “Massive amounts of personnel and other private data have been lost by government contractors and even agencies, such as the Veterans Administration. I am quite sure, for instance, that the security procedures at Los Alamos far exceed those here in Congress. A government wide effort to improve the way data is handled is needed.”
The New Mexican contributed to this report.
ABQ Journal, Wednesday, January 31, 2007
LANL Hit Hard In Congress
By Michael Coleman, Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON— Members of Congress berated Los Alamos National Laboratory on Tuesday for failing to protect America's nuclear secrets, and some suggested shutting the famous lab down.
Meanwhile, a powerful House Democrat introduced a bill to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its LANL oversight role.
Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee that monitors the national labs, said that giving NNSA lab oversight authority in 2000 was a mistake and his bill aims to correct it.
"The risk to security and safety is just too great for us to keep hoping that NNSA gets its act together," Dingell said. "This legislation effectively directs the Department of Energy to work aggressively and do the job that NNSA couldn't do."
Under Dingell's bill, lab oversight would revert to the Department of Energy, which he said would be more accountable than NNSA.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House energy panel, co-sponsored Dingell's bill Tuesday and harshly chastised LANL, where the atomic bomb was developed in the super-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, for repeated security breaches.
"If there was a way to start over, I'd say shut down the Los Alamos, fire everybody out there and build a new lab somewhere else," Barton said.
Tuesday's hearing marked the fifth time since 2003 that LANL's security lapses have come under a hot congressional glare.
The most recent congressional scrutiny came after classified materials— including electronic documents stored on a computer flash drive— were found in the home of a LANL subcontractor during an October drug investigation.
Dingell and Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, both compared Tuesday's hearing to "Groundhog Day," the fictional film in which a weatherman experiences the same day over and over.
"This week is Groundhog Day, so it's appropriate we're having this hearing, but it's not funny," DeGette said, adding that recent security breaches at the northern New Mexico lab "are infuriatingly familiar."
Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation said Tuesday that LANL is much too important to shut down, but they also expressed frustration at the continued security lapses.
Rep. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat whose district includes LANL, said in an interview that he was open to the idea of stripping NNSA of its lab watchdog role.
"From the beginning, I thought the NNSA was an additional layer of bureaucracy," Udall said. "What I'm hearing from employees and managers at Los Alamos is that this is causing more problems than it's solving.
"I think the NNSA gets in the way, in many cases, of good science," Udall added.
Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who pushed for the NNSA's creation, said in a statement that the agency should retain its lab oversight role. He said stripping it "would merely restore all authority to the secretary of energy, or lead to the creation of yet another layer of bureaucracy at a department already choking from that very problem."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Los Alamos is an indispensable part of America's national security.
"To suggest we could do without the lab is irresponsible and wrongheaded," Bingaman said in a statement.
The lab employs more than 12,000 full-time workers and contractors.
Some members of the committee and DOE officials suggested Tuesday that a consortium headed by the University of California, which manages LANL, could face stiff financial penalties for the continued security breaches.
Clay Sell, deputy secretary of energy and a former Domenici aide, told the subcommittee that closing Los Alamos would do more harm to national security than good. He said certain cutting-edge science, such as the construction of plutonium pits, can be done only at LANL.
"It's been suggested that we shoot the dog, and I have to reject that suggestion in the strongest possible terms," Sell said. "We need Los Alamos."
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., retorted: "Then they owe it to the American people to guard it."
Sell pointed out that Linton Brooks was recently fired as director of the National Nuclear Security Administration partly to send a message that the DOE is serious about making the weapons complex secure.
"It is going to take time to change, but we have an outstanding new leadership team in place," Sell said.
Udall said Michael Anastasio, LANL's new director, should be given a chance to turn the allegedly relaxed lab culture around.
"Let's give them a chance to get on top of this," Udall said. "There are two sides to it here. I think people know this is a very important laboratory and they do important work. I don't think they're going to throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Los Alamos Monitor, Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Congress berates LANL again
ROGER SNODGRASS, Monitor Assistant Editor
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unloaded on Department of Energy officials during opening testimony on continuing security problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In a bipartisan display of disapproval, the new Democratic majority and the former Republican minority members demanded explanations from the Department of Energy Inspector General, Gregory Friedman and Glenn Podansky, DOE's chief health, safety and security officer about the most recent security breach.
A highly publicized case in October 2006 involved the discovery of what the Republican members described as 1,588 pages of classified information removed from a vault by a contractor employee at LANL and later found in a mobile home in Los Alamos, during a drug-related investigation.
The information, according to the subcommittee members, included information on nuclear weapons.
Representatives searched for explanations for why Los Alamos has been a continuing topic for their investigations, since 1999, when missing hard drives and Wen Ho Lee were the subjects.
Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, the only non-governmental witness gave an explanation in the form of what she called "a joke around the complex."
Speaking in the first panel of witnesses, she said, "The Secretary of Energy tells the three national labs to jump. Sandia asks how high, Livermore makes an excuse for why it's too busy to jump, and Los Alamos asks who the Secretary of Energy is.
"Los Alamos sticks out as the bad child because of its consistent and utter disregard for federal oversight," she said.
During questioning, Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell, in a second panel, answered a question by Subcommittee Chair Bart Stupak, D-Mich., about the follow-up investigation and why Sell had withdrawn his task force in early January before LANL had come into compliance with his new security directives.
"We found out that we were not making progress at a sufficient pace to meet a Jan. 15 deadline," he said. He added that the team was sent out again and that he found out after Jan. 22 that the laboratory had complied with the directive.
LANL Director Michael Anastasio was scheduled to testify later this morning, along with the acting NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino, and other officials.
Monday afternoon, on the eve of the hearings, Republican members of the committee introduced a bill, quickly endorsed by Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., that would strip primary security oversight from the National Nuclear Security Administration and return the function to the Department of Energy.
What ! ? "It's been suggested that we shoot the dog" ! ?
Not this damn dog, you don't ! ! !
You head on over to DOE and Congress, and shoot them damn dogs ! ! !
Yes... "Nature" publications for everyone from this new cutting edge plutonium pit production science!