Sunday, January 07, 2007
The People at LANL, or the Process?
Santa Fe New Mexican, Sunday January 7, 2007
Security linchpin is people, not process
By Larry L. Lynn, Ph.D.
Coverage of the latest security breach at LANL (Nov. 29, “Report rips lab’s security”) recounts all the money spent on hardware and software to ensure the safety of classified material kept at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
However, the real linchpin of security is the people you hire and maintain after observing their behavior on the job. This is where the money should be spent. However, the direct opposite is being done.
* The contract is put out for bid and the cost of running the facility increases considerably, while the workload remains substantially the same.
* The contract is underfunded by a large amount of money, so large numbers of contractors are separated (fired seems so nasty).
The underfunding of the contract has numerous consequences for LANL and the surrounding communities, as contractors lose their jobs and their families drop further into poverty. Often these former contractors must seek monetary help, instead of spending their earnings and stimulating the economy.
The loss of contractors means that high-paid LANL employees will have to do “menial” jobs formerly done by low-paid people expert in their jobs. This reduces the productivity and morale of LANL employees. LANL employees will spend more time talking and worrying about losing their positions and cushy lifestyles, once again reducing productivity and morale. The economy will be seriously affected when it becomes necessary to lower the number of LANL personnel.
The morale of the employees is key to maintaining security. I have personally observed how serious deterioration of morale occurred during previous times of uncertainty, shutdown and contract negotiations; for example. The consequences are going to be much more dire this time.
The situation at LANL is only made worse by the fact that the atmosphere at LANL is the most inconsiderate and vicious I have ever experienced. Couple this with the facts that:
* Managers, who are replaced because they have become politically incorrect, routinely regain their jobs when the politics change.
* Most managers do not know how to deal with people. LANL continues to follow the fallacy that good analysts/engineers/ designers make good managers.
* Fraternalism is deeply engrained. Most employees live and interact within Los Alamos County. Children replace their parents. Defensive groups are formed. Grudges are kept active for decades.
The mainstay of security indoctrination and re-training is a series of computer-based refresher courses that deal with security of various types. These must be completed by all employees every year. Sounds great and looks good on paper. But in reality they are worse than a joke. Many can be successfully completed without reading a word in them.
Another problem is that at the Department of Energy — and its quasi-autonomous agency, the National Nuclear Security Agency — employees are uncertain as to what information should be kept secret, and how.
The LANL books are flooded with regulations propagated by federal bureaucrats who must fulfill their oversight mandate in some fashion. In order to show Congress that they are properly executing their jobs, they react in a knee-jerk manner to security “violations.” As a result, they either follow outdated and outlandish bureaucratic procedures or they create new procedures, which must be followed. These latter usually are vague and do not address the real problem.
Often they are so convoluted that employees are not able to perform their duties if they follow the procedures.
The restrictions on unclassified computers (which have been on the books for many years and are covered in a refresher course) are actually much stricter than those for classified computers.
My complaints about this fall on deaf ears. In today’s world, terrorists are of more concern than Russia and China. They do not require elaborate information that needs to be downloaded from computers. The information required by a terrorist group can be carried outside the fence in an employee’s head; possibly supplemented by a piece of paper. As stated above, the people are crucial to security; their morale will be a big factor in determining how they treat classified information.
My own situation is ironic and demonstrates how these new situations are not being considered. A LANL psychologist decided that because of my “sleep problems” (which I have had for 30 years), I could not be trusted to have access to classified information. Stored in my head are 30 years of information gained by working with top secret intelligence information and DOE secret information.
The useful information I would gain by working at LANL for the next five years is like a teardrop in the ocean.
Dr. Larry L. Lynn has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most recently he has worked in the intelligence component at LANL.
"The situation at LANL is only made worse by the fact that the atmosphere at LANL is the most inconsiderate and vicious I have ever experienced."
The guy clearly spent enough time at LANL to get to know the place. Being a born and raised Los Alamos kid who came back to work at the lab, I can agree that the points he makes about LANL management, and the inbred nature of LANL and the Los Alamos community are spot-on.
Luckily, I was able to make the decision to leave LANL before this latest, and worst of all transitions came to be. I can see no way that the new corporate contractor will make any improvements in the LANL work environment. The fact is, LANS has no incentive to do so. They are guaranteed their $79 million award fee, regardless of whether the employees are happy. Regardless of how many employees they RIF.
It is painful to watch the accelerating decline of what was once a pretty good place to work. I agree with other comments that have been made on this blog which predict a continued downwards spiral: a restricted mission that focuses on the plutonium component of weapons manufacture, further reduction in work for others funding (the source of most of the interesting science that has been done at LANL in all the years that I worked there), and the continued outflow of "the best and the brightest".
Couple the above with a greedy, arrogant corporate management infrastructure, and the LANL that I knew will soon be gone forever.
You are hired to do a service for a limited amount of time. Understand that about the time you are eligible for retirement, just short of being vested, make twice as much as the company knows they can hire someone else to do the job, or maybe you are filling a slot that Bechtel knows can be filled by one of their own, the company is going to dump you. If you know that you fall within this criteria, you are a burden to the company and will be dealt with accordingly.
This is how corporate America works, so get use to it people. You are only experiencing what the rest of the nation has been subjected to for their entire lives.
Now what part of that can't you comprehend? It's easy if you just accept these facts and come to work each day knowing that if you made it to 3:30 PM you did good because there is a chance that you'll be employed tomorrow. Make you financial planning fit this train of thought and there is no way you can go wrong. Get that house and all of your bills paid in full now. This is the only way you are going to make it.
The bottom line is that you must understand that job security is gone forever and that all of the bitching in the world or the powerless union will not mak
While what you say is true, it goes beyond the fact that Bechtel has no incentive to improve the work environment at LANL. I must point out the little-advertised fact that the $79 million annual award fee is guaranteed to LANS, and is not a true performance-based award fee. Ironically, it was Lockheed-Martin that convinced DOE to change the terms of the contract during the bidding process to make the full fee payable each year, for 5 years. Otherwise, said LM, they would not bid. Now Bechtel can take full advantage of this sweet contract deal.
However, Alan P. Zelicoff's sad incident at Sandia National Laboratory notwithstanding, there is a huge difference between the corporate personalities of Lockheed Martin, and Bechtel. I personally know many SNL staff, both in management, and scientists on technical staff who are by and large happy with their management and their work environments.
Bechtel, first of all, is a construction company. They know *nothing* about running a national laboratory. Secondly, Bechtel is one of the most ruthless, greedy, and heartless of all the large beltway bandits. Money is the bottom line, not the quality of life of their employees. These characteristics of the new LANL contractor are what will drive the "eat shit and like it" attitude of LANL management from now on. The fact is that Bechtel gets a free pass to do anything it wants, as long is DOE is happy, and DOE will be happy because Bechtel has agreed to help them transform LANL into a plutonium pit factory. All of this guarantees that LANL is not going to be a happy place as long as Bechtel is running it.
If it seems like all of those new suit & tie Bechtel managers are an incredible bunch of assholes, they are just reflecting the corporate personality. There's a very good reason they are called "Bechteliens".
Let me see if I've got this straight.
(1) First, NNSA and LANS cause the LANL staff to be stress out and de-moralized to the max. In all my many years of working, I've never seen a work force so badly shaken up. This stress causes lots of people to head for the medicine cabinet to counter the depression and anxiety.
(2) Next, they tell us we might be drug tested with the possibility of instantaneous firings, so people need to carefully consider how their prescription medications and supplements might react to these drug tests. The "at will" clause means you won't have much legal recourse to the instantaneous firings even if you are hit with a false positive.
(3) Finally, now that people have dropped their medications in fear of the false positives of drug testing, they now council us to come on in and talk about any of our "problems" to get "relief".
The type of "relief" I suspect LANS may wish to offer those with "problems" appears to be the type that most LANL staff don't need.
The second anonymous poster did make some errors. He/she/it said "Understand that about the time you are eligible for retirement, just short of being vested, make twice as much as the company knows they can hire someone else to do the job, or maybe you are filling a slot that Bechtel knows can be filled by one of their own, the company is going to dump you." At LANL you get vested after 5 years under the old system, and immediately with a 401k under the new. Also, a new employee is likely to be making more than you are, not half as much.
In the years before the Great Plagues of 2020, a bright and industrious people lived on these slopes. They were called Los Alamosans, and were thought to be some of the deepest thinkers on Earth. Being such good thinkers, their Over-Seers naturally treated them to exceptional wealth. However, with wealth and privilege comes the tendency for great laziness. These deep thinkers began to believe that their beloved homeland would always be blessed with the largess of great wealth, regardless of the worth of the benefits which they bestowed upon their kingdom. You see, the Los Alamosans were the keepers of "Secret Knowledge of Which No One Can Speak". They held the secret for turning vast sections of a nation's industrial heartland into a mass of powered dust through the wizardry of Magic Nooks.
Magic Nooks were in great demand during the last 50 years of America's history, but became less and less desirable once the Walmartians had taken over large portions of the Earth with their gigantic temples dedicated to the Gods of Shopping (i.e., the Cult of Buymorus). Once the Walmartians had spread their vast temples over all the lands, it became unwise to consider destroying an neighbor's industrial base, as the enterprise of these industrious foreign people were required to stock the Walmartian temples with cheap trinkets that were enjoyed by all.
It took some time, but slowly the American public began to realize that the Magic Nooks of the Los Alamosans were becoming dreadfully expensive to maintain and were really of no further use. This greatly bothered the local masters who ruled Los Alamos, so they came up with an ingenious plan to prove to their fellow Americans that their Magic Nooks still mattered (and that they should still continue to be blessed with great amounts of wealth).
Seeing as there were no enemies to attack with the Magic Nooks, the Los Alamosans decided they would find another use. One of the Great Priests of the Los Alamosans, Josiah Martus, decided they should use their Magic Nooks to unearth gold which rumors say laid hidden deep beneath the Jemenius Mountains. To help further the enthusiasm of Los Alamosans to his idea, Josiah buried small nuggets of gold-painted cow manure among the rocks that lay around Los Alamos. The discover of these "gold nuggets" only further inflamed the passions of greed of the Los Alamosans for greater wealth. In no time at all, the whole town was more than willing to attempt usage of a Magic Nook to unearth the horde of treasure that many believed lay hidden beneath their feet.
On the appointed Day of Destruction, Josiah Martus saw to it that a very large Magic Nook was place in the center of town. As the town's folk watch from a safe distance, the Magic Nook was lit and the homes of all Los Alamosans went up in a big cloud of smoke. On the sight of this, the Los Alamosans cheered. Soon they would be owners of the rich veins of gold which lay buried in the rock beneath their feet.
Sadly, the Magic Nook explosion exposed no hordes of gold. It only made a very large hole. At finding this, the Los Alamosans became very angry and chased Josiah Martus out of town. He eventually settled in the Land of the Livermorians, where he continued to sell his crack-pot ideas for using Magic Nooks. However, the damage to Los Alamos had been done. As most of the citizens had mortgages on their now destroyed homes, the citizenry instantly found themselves paupers. This resulted in the people of the town being sold into slavery to the local Sactus Feans to help pay off their enormous debts.
To this day, the gigantic hole still exists. It is a popular tourist attraction, owned by the local Indians, and is referred to as "The Highway to Hell". If you visit this huge hole on cold, moonless nights and listen carefully, you can hear the voice of ghosts whispering a phrase that most people believe sounds like: "Tea-Sea-Pee-Juan". It's not clear regarding the true meaning of this phrase, though it's generally thought to be related to the memory of some long-forgotten and well beloved Indian Princess.
-- "History of America", Pliny the Elder, 2050 --
and if that one doesn't work, then try:
Mike Anastascio likes to use the code below, but it may not work for you:
This old code below was used by the Mr. Mitchell, and may still be valid for a short time longer:
If anyone else has some valid codes to help the needy, please post them here. It's time for everyone to pitch-in and come together for our fellow staff members in need, in the historic tradition of true LANL brotherhood.
Unfortunately, what I've been reading seems to be more statements of subjective feelings rather than factual information.
Yes, its a time of change, for the better or worse, we'll have to wait and see. We DO live in a capitalistic economy and have deemed it better than others and now the Lab is a part of that economy with a bottom-line. There are many good companies with bottom-lines, see http://www.greatplacetowork.com/best/list-bestusa.htm, Many of these are technology driven companies, like Google which is number 1.
Perhaps what is needed at LANL and LLNL is a challenge: How to beat out Google for the number one spot!!
In absence of facts e.g. how bad Betchel is, LANS is, etc. I choose to focus on how the Labs can be in the top 10 of the top 100 companies. (No I'm not a manger)
"(No I'm not a manger)"
I believe it. Not even an LLNL manager could sound like that much of a twit. Just wait until Bechtel is running LLNL, and then see if you can "focus" on ways to make them as good as Google.
Don't worry, I'm sure you'll make a fine little at-will employee.
You know, I'm sorry, but that is a probably one of the lamest comments I have ever witnessed on this blog.
Beat out Google doing what, exactly? Being the best search engine on the Internet? Helping to make a better shopping experience for the public? You must have a very poor idea how National Labs function and what tasks they actually perform.
Stop with the silly comparisons and the "We're # 1, Rah, Rah" chants. If you are, indeed, a LLNL employee (which I doubt), then you'll be ecstatic once Bechtel takes over at Livermore. You'll soon be getting exactly what you want, courtesy of the RFP. Enjoy it, and be sure to tell all your LLNL colleagues how much happier you are working under the new management. In fact, I would suggest you start right now by wearing T-shirts and caps to work that say "Bechtel -- We're Number 1!!!". That should help gen-up some wonderful team spirit among your fellow workers.
For example, Google is viewed to be not only the number one company to work for but also the 'The Worlds Hottest Tech Company". See: http://money.cnn.com/2007/01/05/magazines/fortune/Wanna_work_at_Google.fortune/?postversion=2007010807.
I wonder how many S&E Lab folks could actually get a job at Google??
Bechtel isn't on the list (head office: Frederick, Maryland)
I know several people who left LANL after Nanos' disasterous fuck-ups of 2004 to go work at Google. And that's a fact, Jack.
As I have mentioned in a previous comment, many of the best scientists have already left LANL. As more LANL staff begin to wake up to the unpleasant realities of working for Bechtel (I know, *LANS*, but it is Bechtel that is running the show), more will leave.